M A I N   N E W S

Govt forced to defer N-liability bill
Aditi Tandon
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, March 15
Faced with stiff resistance from a united opposition, the government today deferred the introduction of Civil Liability for Nuclear Damages Bill in the Lok Sabha, despite first having listed it in the day’s business.

The Bill seeks to fix at Rs 300 crore the civil liability of operators in case of each nuclear accident. Though quintessential to the operationalisation of the Indo-US civil nuclear deal, the legislation has been slammed by both right-wing BJP and Left parties, with both opposing its very introduction in Lok Sabha.

Fearing division if the Bill was introduced, the government brought itself major embarrassment today by withdrawing the same after mentioning it in the day’s business. The withdrawal of a listed legislation is unusual in parliamentary history, with no past precedence to the effect.

The government was obviously looking at numbers in LS, where 236 opposition members -- BJP (116), Left (24), SP (23), BSP (21), RJD (4), JDU (20), BJD (14), Shiv Sena (11), SAD (4) -- were united against the bill and more adversaries, including some UPA allies, could surface. Treasury benches on their part appeared thin. Under the rules, the opposition can demand division on a motion to seek leave of the House to introduce a Bill.

So the government chose to crush the cause of worry, with Speaker Meira Kumar saying she had received a request from Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office Prithviraj Chavan regarding government’s intention to not introduce the bill today.

“I have accepted the request,” said the Speaker, throwing the House into turmoil and provoking Leader of Opposition Sushma Swaraj into saying that the House didn’t run by the intention of the government and the Speaker should move a motion to seek leave of the House to introduce the listed Bill.

Kumar, however, rejected Sushma’s plea saying the question of seeking leave of the House arose in case of a Bill that had already been introduced. This prompted a quick remark from senior BJP leader L.K. Advani who said the Parliament had the right to know why listed business was being withdrawn. “Is it because the government is willing to reconsider the law or due to the opposition to it?” he asked, failing to elicit official response.




Chavan talks of consensus

Prithviraj Chavan later said the government was ready to discuss with the opposition the legal competence and constitutional validity of the bill to evolve a consensus. "But the opposition can’t question merits of the Bill which can be discussed on the floor or in the standing committee,” he said, denying US pressure and adding that the Nuclear Suppliers Group, of which India wants to be a member, insisted on framing of domestic compensatory payment legislation in the absence of which nuclear plant operators would not take the liability pf compensation payment in case of accidents. “That’s why the legislation,” he said. The minister added that India didn't have a well-defined compensation payment regulation for catastrophe in industrial units, particularly in nuclear and chemical plants, and the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy litigation went on for decades because of this. 



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