Govt avoids tabling Bill on N-liability

Govt avoids tabling Bill on N-liability

New Delhi: The government refrained from introducing a Bill aimed at making operators of nuclear reactors liable for accidents, although it was listed among the main business of the Lok Sabha on Monday.

Some members of Parliament objected to the introduction of the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill, questioning its “constitutional validity and legislative competence", said science and technology minister Prithivraj Chavan. The government will hold talks with these leaders, he said.

The move by the ruling Congress-led United Progressive Alliance underlined its weakness in securing passage of Bills in the absence of a clear majority in the Lower House.

The main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Left parties have opposed the draft legislation because they say the proposed liability cap is too low. The Bill caps operator liability at Rs500 crore and overall liability at Rs2,200 crore.

BJP leader Yashwant Sinha said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had called Sushma Swaraj, leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, in a last-minute effort to change her party’s position on the Bill. Swaraj declined, he said.

Chavan refuted the Left’s allegation that the Bill was pushed in a hurry under pressure from the US nuclear industry. “There is an urgency to join the international convention for which we need to pass a national law," he said. “No suppliers will come to do business if there is no law."

The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) wanted the Bill to be passed in Parliament ahead of Singh’s visit to Washington in April to attend a nuclear security summit, said an official, who declined to be named.

“The PMO wants to pass all the Bills in a hurry," a senior cabinet minister said on condition of anonymity. “But Parliament functions on certain norms."

Santosh K. Joy contributed to this story.