A sell-out

There is reason for serious concern over the new rules that the Manmohan Singh government has formulated on the nuclear liability law. In a desperate bid to please foreign suppliers of nuclear reactors, it is trading away the rights, safety and security of the people of this country.

The new rules erode even the limited ‘right of recourse’ that nuclear operators were promised under the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act that parliament passed in 2010. They say the right of recourse is limited for the duration of the initial license or the product liability period, whichever is longer. In effect, this would leave operators with a right of recourse for a period of just five years.

This is far too short a period, especially since the average life of a reactor is 30-40 years. Besides, the new rules fix a cap on the liability at a sum of Rs 1,500 crore. This is peanuts given the enormous cost of a reactor. It is a ridiculously low amount should a nuclear accident occur.

Foreign nuclear firms are desperate to enter the Indian market. India is in an advantageous position. It could be finalising deals that benefit its people. Sadly, it has thrown away this advantage by putting in place rules that favour the suppliers. One would have thought that in the wake of the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, the government would have tightened norms for suppliers, put in place rules that would force them to accept greater responsibility. Instead, it is letting them off the hook. They can do business here now without worrying too much about having to bear the costs of providing shoddy equipment.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is reported to have told the Americans that US nuclear firms will have to operate within the ‘four corners’ of India’s nuclear liability law. What the government hasn’t told the Indian public is that this law has been emasculated to suit the interests of American nuclear firms.

All the muscle flexing and tough talk by Singh’s spin doctors are an exercise in disinformation. While the government might not have conceded the demands of the US nuclear reactor industry in toto, contrary to its claims that it stood up to the Americans, the government caved in to US pressure. The new rules surreptitiously violate the letter and spirit of a law passed by parliament. Parliament must pull up the government during the upcoming session.

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