Cabinet clears revised nuclear liability Bill

Cabinet clears revised nuclear liability Bill

New Delhi: The Union cabinet on Friday cleared a revised version of a Bill to govern civil liability in the event of nuclear damage to push forward the process of increasing the share of atomic power in electricity generation. It also approved an increase in the monthly salary of parliamentarians by more than three times to Rs50,000.

Prithviraj Chavan, minister of state in the Prime Minister’s Office, told reporters that the revised legislation “agreed to retain pre-standing committee (of Parliament) formation" on the controversial clause to allow nuclear operators right of recourse against equipment suppliers in the event of nuclear damage.

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The original legislation, which was tabled in Parliament in May, allowed an operator the right of recourse against a supplier under any one of three conditions: where there is a written agreement, “wilful act" of negligence and deliberate attempt to cause damage.

This section of the revised legislation became controversial as the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said on Thursday that it was drafted in a way that restricted the possibility of an operator to pursue the right of recourse against suppliers by linking the first two of the three conditions with the word “and" between them. The section was at odds with a prior agreement between the United Progressive Alliance and the BJP to build a consensus for the legislation, BJP leaders said.

“The US nuclear power companies were demanding that the operators accept the responsibility in toto. But the (revised) Bill now pins responsibility on the operator and the supplier," said Kanwal Sibal, former foreign secretary. “The (revised) Bill provides for the supplier accepting the responsibility (for anything going wrong) voluntarily. If they do, that is fine. If they don’t, they will be liable under the Indian law."

According to Chavan, the revised legislation also incorporated a parliamentary committee’s suggestions on increasing the maximum liability of operators by three times to Rs1,500 crore and enhancing the right to claim compensation from 10 years to 20 years.

The Civil Liability For Nuclear Damage Bill, 2010, legislation aims to provide quick compensation to victims of a nuclear incident. The revised legislation cleared by the cabinet is not yet in the public domain as parliamentarians have not yet been given a copy, Chavan said. He expected the Bill to be debated by Parliament next week.

“This Bill is about prompt payment of liabilities to victims," Chavan said of the revised legislation. “The operator cannot pursue suppliers till he pays victims fully."

Chavan’s media interaction had references to the industrial incident in Bhopal in 1984, where the compensation came a few years after the incident.

Indian law currently allow only public sector companies or the government to be nuclear operators.

Separately, the cabinet also cleared another controversial move: an increase in the salary of parliamentarians. Basic monthly pay was enhanced to Rs50,000 and some other perks were also increased. The enhanced pay is lower than the recommendation of Rs80,001 by a parliamentary committee earlier. Some parliamentarians disrupted proceedings on Friday as they were dissatisfied with extent of increase.

Elizabeth Roche and PTI contributed to this story.