UPA likely to alter nuke Bill provisions for safe passage

UPA likely to alter nuke Bill provisions for safe passage

New Delhi: The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) is likely to alter provisions of the controversial Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill, including tightening key security provisions, to ensure its smooth passage in Parliament.

The government’s move, under pressure from Opposition parties, reflects the urgency of having to enact the legislation before US President Barack Obama’s visit later this year. The Indo-US nuclear deal becoming operational hinges on the passage of the legislation.

The parliamentary standing committee on science and technology, headed by Congress lawmaker T. Subbarami Reddy, is expected to discuss the Bill clause by clause on 16-17 August and submit the report to Parliament the following day.

The panel, which had been expected to finalize its report on Thursday, received a week’s extension after a meeting between finance minister Pranab Mukherjee and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders on Wednesday.

Though the government has been keen to retain key provisions which would attract investors to the nuclear energy sector, it would have to agree to raise the liability cap of Rs500 crore in case of an accident to Rs1,000 crore, said a senior member of the standing committee on science and technology that’s scrutinizing the draft Bill.

“The government will also have to extend the 10-year-time bar for an operator to face litigation to 20 years and the controversial Article 17 (b) of the original Bill will have to be retained," said the member, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

According to the original Bill, the right of a plaintiff to claim damages would expire after 10 years of an accident. Article 17 (b) of the Bill enables “right of recourse" for a nuclear plant operator—the right to sue a supplier for compensation in the event of an accident if it believes the accident resulted from negligence on the part of the supplier.

Science and technology minister Prithviraj Chavan said no final decision has been taken. “All these are suggestions," he said.

According to another member of the committee, who didn’t want to be identified, the government is also willing to consider the Opposition’s suggestion that compensation be decided by the claims commissioner and that the Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage be abolished.

At the same time the government insists that it would not make suppliers liable as demanded by Left parties, limiting liability to the operator of a nuclear plant.

BJP leaders privately admitted that the party would not oppose the Bill in Parliament when it comes up for consideration and passage.