Nuke Liability Bill not being brought under foreign pressure: Prithviraj Chavan

Nuke Liability Bill not being brought under foreign pressure: Prithviraj Chavan

The bill, which provides for compensation in case of a nuclear accident, is a key step in operationalising the Indo- US nuclear deal. "Parliament is the right forum to discuss the Bill. If the House wants to send the Bill to a Parliamentary Standing Committee, we will do that," Minister of State in Prime Minister's Office Prithviraj Chavan said in Rajya Sabha.

He said during Question Hour that the Bill has been under consideration for very long as the Public Liability Insurance Act of 1991 (enacted in the aftermath of the Bhopal gas tragedy in 1984) is not applicable to nuclear incidents. "Thus, at present there is no law to provide compensation to the victims of a nuclear incident. Is there any pressure (from foreign companies to bring the Bill)? Absolutely none," he said.

"I refute the charge that the Bill is being brought under pressure from any particular country," Chavan said. The Government, he said, intends to produce a Bill in Lok Sabha to provide for civil liability for nuclear damages. He, however, did not put a timeframe for its introduction. Chavan said there was no question of any foreign company setting up a nuclear power plant in the country as the Atomic Energy Act prohibits any firm other then a PSU to set up and operate nuclear plants in India.

"Nuclear power plants can only be set up either by the Central Government itself or through any authority or corporation established by it or a Central Government company," he said. Government proposes to buy nuclear reactors from abroad but the same would be operated by Government companies.

India, he said, was negotiating with three countries for supply of nuclear reactors and all feel that the liability, in case of an accident, should be channeled to the operator."It is absolute liability of the operator in case of any incident," he said. "The proposed legislation provides for prompt compensation to the victims of a nuclear incident." "The Bill facilitates payment of compensation by enforcing no-fault liability on the operator of a nuclear installation," he said.

The Bill lays down the liability of the operator at Rs 500 crore per nuclear incident and a maximum amount of liability at rupee equivalent of 300 million Special Drawing Rights (which, at present exchange rate, is Rs 2,163 crore) for a nuclear incidence. It also empowers the Government to increase or decrease the amount of liability of the operator depending on the risk involved.

The liability has to be limited or caped so that the operator can carry insurance or financial security to cover its exposure in case of accidents, Chavan said. The passage of the bill would ensure prompt and immediate compensation to victims. Courts can decide on compensation beyond the prescribed limit in the Act. Joining an international convention on limiting liability in case of a nuclear incident has been under consideration since 1988. "This is not something that happened yesterday," he said.

Of the 30 nuclear power generating countries, 28 are members of one of the three international conventions on liability in case of nuclear accidents. Only India and Pakistan are not signatory to any convention. "If you want to expand in nuclear energy, we will have to join an international convention or have domestic legislation," he said. "Are we appeasing any particularly countries, not true."

"This country must have a civil liability law so that victims get relief," he said. Chavan said there are thousands of suppliers to a nuclear power plant and if victims were to sue suppliers, they will find it very difficult. The Bill permits operators to enter into bilateral agreement with equipment suppliers for liability in case of failure, he added.

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