M A I N   N E W S

Text of N-liability Bill cleared
Anita Katyal 
Our Political Correspondent

New Delhi, November 19
The Cabinet today cleared the text of the Civil Nuclear Liability Bill, listed for introduction in the Winter Session of Parliament that commenced today. The passage of the Bill is important for India to move forward on the implementation of the Indo-US civil nuclear agreement that fructified last year after a long and protracted political debate, bringing the last UPA government to the verge of a collapse.

Although US President Barrack Obama has reiterated his administrationís commitment to this agreement, there are worries in India that the present dispensation may try to dilute the text of the agreement given its strong concern for non-proliferation. It has already persuaded the G-8 countries from banning enrichment and reprocessing technology to countries that are not signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Given this background, New Delhi does not want to give any further handle to the Obama administration to stall the implementation of the nuclear agreement. It also hopes that private companies wanting to do business in India will exert requisite pressure on the US government once India signaled its intent to go through with the promised legislative changes necessary for the operationalisation of the deal. The passage of the Nuclear Liability Bill will allow India to join the international convention on civil liability for nuclear damage.

Besides placing a cap on the compensation to be paid in case of an accident at a nuclear site, the proposed legislation also puts the responsibility for paying this compensation on the operator and not the suppliers or foreign companies installing the reactors in India. It also provides for regular monitoring at the nuclear facilities to avoid any disasters.

After the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Groupís exemption, which lifted three decades of nuclear trade curbs on India, New Delhi has signed a number of nuclear power agreements with Russia, France, Kazahkastan and the US. However, private companies who want to do business with India have been impeded in their efforts because of the absence of a liability law. Foreign companies wanting to supply nuclear reactors and other equipment have been pressing New Delhi for the speedy passage of this crucial Bill. Although the UPA government has moved ahead on the Nuclear Liability Bill, the changes to the Atomic Energy Act, which are also critical for the implementation of Indo-US nuclear deal, are still in the pipeline. These amendments will allow private investment in nuclear power generation but the government is a little wary on opening the doors to private players in this critical area.



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