New Delhi:Government is willing to discuss and rework a crucial nuclear liability bill, party leaders said on Thursday, a move that will further delay entry of US firms into the country’s $150 billion nuclear market.
In a significant setback last month, the government backed off from introducing the bill in parliament after opposition parties protested over the limited liability energy firms would face in case of industrial accidents.
While the coalition government, led by the Congress party, has a majority in the lower house, it needs the support of the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to secure approval of the bill in the upper house of parliament.
“We have an open mind. If there are deficiencies in the bill, we can discuss them,” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, quoted by the Hindustan Times newspaper, said late on Wednesday.
“We will present the bill in parliament after which it should go to a standing committee where all differences can be resolved.”
The opposition has accused the government of failing to engage sufficiently in discussion over key legislation, bringing several bills to a standstill. The new approach suggests the Congress party is changing its approach.
Congress leaders said they were probably facing a long delay before the bill is passed as a parliamentary standing committee, with opposition lawmakers among its members, could propose further amendments.
“Nothing can be done in a hurry and without consensus,” Manish Tiwari, a senior Congress leader, told Reuters. “The prime minister has clearly said: ‘Let a Standing Committee scrutinise the bill.´”
Deal Ends Nuclear Isolation
A 2008 US deal ended the nuclear isolation into which India was thrust by its 1974 atomic test. It also gave India access to US technology and fuel, while also opening up the global nuclear market to India.
Ratifying the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill is imperative for private US firms reluctant to do business in India without legislation that underwrites their compensation liability in the case of industrial accidents.
Opposition parties say the bill favours private players as it seeks to put a maximum liability of about $450 million on the state-run reactor operator without placing any compensation burden on private suppliers and contractors.
“If he (the prime minister) is willing to discuss the bill, we will talk,” Prakash Javdekar, a senior BJP leader, told Reuters. “But the bill in the present form cannot be passed in parliament.”
Opposition leaders says the liability of a US operator under US legislation is $12.5 billion — 23 time s higher than the liability fixed for an Indian operator.