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Nuclear bill
It’s all over bar the shouting
Despite protests from Left, RJD and SP, the N-Bill will sail through with BJP support
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, August 18
Decks have been cleared for the passage of the contentious Civil Nuclear Liability Bill in the ongoing session of Parliament after the BJP pledged its support for the proposed legislation even as RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav and SP leader Mulayam Singh Yadav disrupted the Lok Sabha, accusing the Congress of striking a deal with the main Opposition party by promising relief for Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi in the Sohrabuddin fake encounter case.

The report of the Standing Committee on Science and Technology on the Bill, which was finalised after the Congress agreed to accommodate most of BJP’s changes, was tabled in the Lok Sabha amid uproar. The Left parties have, however, given dissenting notes in the report.

The government is now working overtime to secure the passage of the Bill next week as the proposed law will enable India to conclude nuclear deals with major countries, including the US.

While the RJD and the SP cried foul, BJP leaders were thrilled that it was able to push the government into accepting their recommendations. The report has addressed BJP’s concern by proposing a provision for “clear-cut” accountability of suppliers for any mishap involving an atomic plant. Again, it was at the insistence of the main opposition party that the report has recommended that the cap of compensation, to be given by the operator, be raised to Rs 1,500 crore from Rs 500 crore as provided for in the original Bill.

The agreement was sealed yesterday during day-long hectic behind-the-scenes confabulations between the Finance Minister and Lok Sabha leader Pranab Mukherjee and the BJP top brass, including Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley and Yashwant Sinha. Several drafts were prepared and it was only after all concerns were addressed that the BJP gave its consent.

To hold the supplier accountable, the committee has rephrased Clause 17(B) as: “The nuclear incident has resulted as a consequence of latent or patent defect, supply of substandard material, defective equipment or services or from gross negligence on the part of the supplier of the material, equipment or services”.

In the original Bill, Clause 17(B) stated: “The nuclear incident has resulted from the wilful act or gross negligence on the part of the supplier of the material, equipment or services, or of his employee.”

The committee admitted that the words “wilful act or gross negligence” mentioned in the original Bill were “vague” and “hence there should be a clear cut liability on the supplier of nuclear equipments/material in case they are found to be defective.” The Clause 17(B) gives “escape route to the suppliers of the nuclear materials, equipments, services of his employees as their wilful act or gross negligence would be difficult to establish in a civil nuclear compensation case,” it said.

This was a major point of contention as the BJP had consistently charged that the original provisions of the Bill had been included to allow foreign suppliers to get away in case of an accident.

The report has, therefore, underlined that the operator (in this case, an Indian government entity) “must secure his interest through appropriate provisions in the contract with the supplier”.

“Even though the supplier is liable to the operator as per Clause 17(A), (B) and (C) of the Bill, the committee recommends that if a written contract between the operator and the supplier provides for the right to recourse, the operator may, after compensating the victims, exercise the right of recourse against the supplier in accordance with the provisions of the contract,” the report stated.




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