NEW DELHI: Two days before it is moved in the Parliament, the Nuclear Liability Bill on Sunday ran into fresh trouble with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Left parties slamming the government for "diluting" the suppliers’ liability through changes in the draft legislation.
The BJP and the Left parties have apprehensions over an amendment in the Bill which they feel protects foreign companies and domestic private players in the event of a nuclear accident caused by gross negligence or defective supplies on their part. "We are very clear that the scope of Clause 17 (B) (relating to suppliers’ liability) cannot be diluted," BJP spokesperson, Ms Nirmala Sitharaman said. "We need that to be addressed and if it is being diluted by this amendment which the government has cleared in the cabinet, BJP will stand up and object to it," she added.
The Left was categorical that it would not give its nod to such a change in the text of the Civil Nuclear Bill. In a joint statement, the Left parties criticised the new amendments proposed by the government which, according to them, would make it impossible to ascribe liability to suppliers of equipment for nuclear plants.
"The formulation of 17 (B) proposed in the amendment is, in fact, worse than the provision contained in the original Bill," CPI(M) general secretary, Mr Prakash Karat, CPI general secretary, Mr A B Bardhan, Forward Bloc leader, Mr Debabrata Biswas and Mr Abani Roy of the Revolutionary Socialist Party said in a statement.
The amendments to the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill, 2010 proposed by the government not only goes against the grain of the crucial recommendations of the Standing Committee but also seeks to further dilute the provisions of the original Bill to protect the interests of the foreign suppliers of nuclear equipment and domestic private players, they said.
However, the Congress said that the Bill was still a "work in progress" and government was open to build the "widest possible consensus" by taking on board concerns voiced by political parties. "It (Bill) is a work in progress and I think if at all there are any legitimate concerns, the government has always been open and would be open to taking those concerns on board because that is what is the essence of any parliamentary democracy," Congress spokesman, Mr Manish Tewari said. He pointed out that consultations were held with the leaders of the opposition and their concerns were taken on board by the government.
A fresh controversy broke out after the government circulated the amendments to the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill, 2010, which were approved by the Union cabinet. One of the 18 amendments suggests that an accident in a nuclear plant should have occurred as a consequence of an act done with an "intent" if an operator has to claim damages from the supplier.
The amended Clause 17 says "the operator of a nuclear installation, after paying the compensation for nuclear damage in accordance with Section 6, shall have a right of recourse where – (a) such right is expressly provided for in a contract in writing, (b) the nuclear incident has resulted as a consequence of an act of supplier or his employees, done with the intent to cause nuclear damage, and such act includes supply of equipment or material with patent or latent defects or sub-standard services, (c) the nuclear incident has resulted from the act of commission or omission of an individual done with intent to cause nuclear damage."
The BJP and the Left feel that the mention of "intent" in the sub-clauses (b) and (c) regarding an accident may give a route to suppliers to escape responsibility because it would be difficult to prove intent in any such mishap. The Left parties said the "dubious intent" of the government was further exposed by the addition of Clause 7 (1) proposed as an amendment, through which it seeks to "assume full liability for a nuclear installation not operated by it," which clearly referred to private nuclear installations. They said the Standing Committee had categorically recommended "that there will be no private operator of nuclear installation." "This paves the way for a massive subsidisation of private players in nuclear power by the government as and when they are allowed to operate," the statement said.