H C Singh

Controversy Over Nuclear Bill- Implications of Civil Nuclear Liability

 It is surprising that neither the PM or a senior Minister has tried to explain the nuclear liability bill. It was Shivshankar Menon, National Security Advisor who briefed a group of Congress MP’s claiming that this Bill “would introduce a transparent, orderly and predictable system of compensation to victims and fix responsibility for nuclear incident” He has not said that the liability of an Indian operator will be insignificant compared to liability, because of an incident, in USA to an American operator which will be 20 to 25 times more than in India or compensation for an Indian citizen. Payment of compensation to a victim of nuclear accident will be on the basis of a complex formula which has not been explained by Menon or the PM in Lok Sabha.

The government favours the passage of the Indo-US Nuclear Bill, as of high priority. But its retreat indicates its worries over its smooth passage. Mamta Banerjee has opposed the bill and is ready to play spoiler. As in 33 percent reservation for women’s bill Sonia Gandhi’s prestige is involved, so in the Nuclear Bill Manmohan Singh’s prestige is much more involved.

BJP the main opposition party is vehemently apposed to nuclear bill. BJP’s Yashwant Sinha, former Union Minister, has even gone so far as to say that BJP will never accept this bill which favours USA and “transfers a large part of liability to the government in other words to tax payer”. Sinha further elucidated that the bill violates Article 21 of the constitution, right to protection of life and personal liberty and is also violation of Article 14 ‘Right to Equality’ as the liability under Price Anderson Act of the US is 12.5 billion Dollars (Rs 49,266 crore), while that of India is Rs 2,142 crore, which is 23 times higher than the liability fixed for an Indian operator. That means an American life is valued 23 times more than that of an Indian.

All the left parties, CPM, CPI, Forward Bloc and RSP in a joint statement have condemned haste to pass this bill with unjust liability to government of India and Indian operator. These parties have written an open letter to all MPs to oppose the Bill. The left parties have “questioned the government’s rationale to put a cap on liability at Rs 2,142 crore out of which amount Rs 1,642 crore would be borne by the government and the rest by nuclear operator.” Considering the damage that was caused by nuclear explosions i.e. dropping atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan in 1945, the damage caused is million times more in lives and property. Who will bear the cost, unfortunately if it takes place? There are many loopholes in the Bill which USA is insisting for India to ratify. PM and the government of India have not clarified in detail the implications.

There seems lot of confusion as well as lack of clarity. That is the reason for the opposition parties to declare strongly rejection of the nuclear liability Bill. The government of Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh should not forget that 33 Percent reservation for women Bill could only be passed in Rajya Sabha because of complete and wholehearted support by the opposition parties. Neither 33 Percent women representation Bill nor the nuclear liability Bill can get through in Lok Sabha as Congress and UPA do not and can not have two third majority for the passage of these two important and rather historic Bills.

Indo-US Nuclear agreement has brought hope for nuclear development in India for peaceful purposes. Nuclear energy is to provide in due course, maximum share of the electric energy required in the country, demand for which will be manifold in coming two decades. It will reduce pollution in India as well as reduce global warming which is posing danger to our planet. Hydro electric power, wind energy as well as solar energy can meet the demand marginally though progress in these sectors, too, will be there. Production of nuclear energy even for peaceful uses has many problems to name a few like heavy cost of construction of nuclear power stations as well as safeguards against incidents, radio activity and disposal of nuclear waste.

Article 2-4 of Indo-US agreement gives India freedom to use nuclear material available in India that has not been supplied under the Indo-US agreement. But the crises in India as outlined above, is strong criticism by left parties and BJP about the details of civil nuclear liability which require to be clarified by the Indian government so that opposition to the Bill is diluted. Whatever modifications in the nuclear agreement in India’s interests are required should be done and taken up urgently. Infact detailed clarifications should have been given long back.

March 25, 2010 - Posted by | India, USA | , , , , , , , ,

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