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Amid protests, Nuclear Liability Bill introduced in Lok Sabha

Special Correspondent

Members of the Left parties and NDA stage walkout

NEW DELHI: The contentious Nuclear Liability Bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha on Friday amid protests and walkout by Left and NDA members, who termed it “illegal, unconstitutional and anti-people.”

The Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill, 2010, which provides for payment of compensation in the event of a nuclear accident is a pre-requisite for U.S. nuclear companies to enter India, and an enabling condition for their French and Russian counterparts.

The Bill, whose passage is essential to operationalise the nuclear deal with the U.S., was moved by Minister of State in the Department of Atomic Energy Prithviraj Chavan. It provides for a maximum liability of Rs. 500 crore on the part of the operator in case of an accident. The provision, the Left and NDA members say, puts a cap on compensation and violates the rights of a citizen guaranteed under the Constitution.

In the event of an accident, countries are also entitled to compensation of 300 million special drawing rights. However, to join the Convention on Supplementary Compensation, India will have to ensure that it has a national legislation, consistent with the provisions in the annexure of the Convention. Now India is not a party to any international nuclear liability convention.

As Mr. Chavan sought permission from Speaker Meira Kumar to introduce the Bill, CPI(M) leaders Basudeb Acharia and Ramchandra Dome, BJP leaders M.M. Joshi and Yashwant Sinha and CPI leader Gurudas Dasgupta said legislation would violate Article 21 that guarantees the citizen's fundamental right to life. They said the Bill also compromised the right of victims to approach court for enhanced compensation.

Mr. Sinha, a former External Affairs Minister, alleged that the Bill was being introduced under the U.S. pressure. The compensation proposed in the Bill was a pittance in comparison with that ensured by the U.S. laws: in the U.S., there is a provision for compensation to the tune of Rs. 60,000 crore, 23 times higher than Rs. 2,600 crore proposed by the Bill.

Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj said her party had conveyed to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that the Bill should be amended, but the government was “adamant” on introducing it in its present form. Dr. Joshi said the Bill was against the law laid down by the Supreme Court, which stipulated that the polluter must pay for the damage, and did not factor in the concerns over the environment and possible health hazards. Till now, a victim had the right to “unlimited liability,” but the proposed legislation would put a cap on compensation.

Leader of the House and Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal argued that the members could not speak on the merits of the Bill at the stage of introduction, but could refer to the legislative competence of the House.

There was no protest from Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh and RJD chief Lalu Prasad. They had opposed the Bill in March, when the government made the first bid to introduce it.

After the Left and NDA members staged a walkout, the Bill was introduced.

Later, Mr. Bansal told journalists that the Bill would be brought for consideration in the monsoon session. “It will go to the standing committee concerned, which will deliberate upon it in the next two months. I hope it will come up with a report in the monsoon session.”

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