SC to study aspects of Nuclear Liability Act

SC to study aspects of Nuclear Liability Act

A three-judge Bench refuses to consider plea by NGOs, senior citizens seeking for regulatory body

The Supreme Court on Friday sought Centre’s response on a public interest litigation (PIL) challenging the validity of the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act, 2010.

A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice S H Kapadia, however, refused to go into the plea made by a couple of NGOs and a group of eminent citizens, seeking direction to the Centre to establish an independent regulatory body to ensure safety of all nuclear plants in the country.

“We will consider all the aspects of the Act vis-à-vis Article 21 (Right to life and personal liberty) of the Constitution,” the bench, also comprising Justices A K Patnaik and Swatanter Kumar, said.

The court decided to examine the “vires” of the Act, considering the submissions made by advocate Prashant Bhushan that the law put a limit on the damages on nuclear supplier to the tune of Rs 1,500 crore only in case of any accident.

He contended that the provisions of the Act went against the basic principle of “polluter pays” and violated the fundamental rights.

“In that case why a supplier would now spend over Rs 1,500 crore to install safety features in nuclear plants,” Bhushan, appearing for NGOs Common Cause and Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL), asked.

The counsel also referred to Chernobyl and Fukushima disasters to contend that there should be an independent regulatory body comprising experts for the nuclear plants in the country as they had serious health and environment hazards that could affect the lives of billions of people in the country.

“Do you think this court is competent to examine these issues? Do you think the court should do everything?” the bench asked.

To this, the counsel said that the petitioners had written to the Prime Minister but did not hear from him even after a lapse of one year.

“We understand your concerns. In our Constitution, there is separation of power. Government is also responsible,” the bench said.

There are a large number of nuclear plants in the country. Any accident could affect the lives of not only one generation but future generations as well, Bhushan submitted.

On his plea, the court said that it would examine the legality of the Act and issued notice to the Centre.

Attorney General G E Vahanvati tried to defend the law by submitting that it was for Parliament to look into the issue of safety and appointment of independent regulator.

The PIL filed by former Cabinet Secretary T S R Subramanian, former Chief of Naval Staff L Ramdas, former Chief Election Commissioner N Gopalaswami, former Secretary to the Prime Minister K R Venugopal and others sought direction for setting up of an expert nuclear regulator, independent of the government to conduct comparative cost-benefit analysis vis-a-vis other sources of energy.  

It also urged the apex court to declare the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act, 2010 as “unconstitutional”.

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