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N-Bill Panel seeks operator's liability at Rs 1,500 cr

By The Assam Tribune

New Delhi, Aug 18 (IANS): A parliamentary panel that examined the contentious Nuclear Liability Bill has recommended that the operators liability in case of an accident be trebled to Rs 1,500 crore (about $322 million) and the right to recourse against the supplier be made stringent.

T Subbarami Reddy (Congress), the chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science and Technology, which examined the Bill, said that the report has recommended that the right to claim compensation should be increased from 10 years to 20 years. He said that principle of no fault and strict liability of operator should be explicitly stated in the Bill.

"The operator's liabilities should be increased from Rs 500 crore to Rs 1,500 crore and the government may increase the liability of an operator but in no case can decrease it," Reddy said.

He said the report has categorically suggested that the Bill applies only to nuclear installations owned and controlled by the Central government or through any authority or corporation established by it or a government company as defined by the Atomic Energy Act, 1962. This, he added, has been suggested to make it clear that there will be no private operator of a nuclear installation in India.

The committee has also suggested expanding the definition of nuclear damage by including the immediate and long-term health impact on a person and loss of life and personal injury, as also including the word environment as defined by the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.

The report says that the maximum amount of liability for a nuclear accident should be 300 Special Drawing Rights (SDR) or such higher amount as may be notified by the Central government from time to time.

To make the right of recourse against suppliers more stringent, the committee has recommended a modification in clause 17 of the Bill.

It said that clause 17 (b) should be modified to read: "The nuclear incident has resulted as a consequence of latent or patent defect, supply of sub-standard material, defective equipment or services or from the gross negligence on the part of supplier of the material, equipment or services."

The committee has recommended that the operator must secure his interests through appropriate provisions in the contract with the supplier.

Reddy said the main objective of the Bill was to provide for a mechanism of prompt payment of compensation to the victims in case of a nuclear accident. The Bill provides for appointment of a Claims Commissioner and a Nuclear Damage Claims Commission to dispose off claims within three months. He said the Left members had given a note of dissent but all other members were in agreement with the recommendations.

On the demand of the Left and the Bharatiya Janata Party against joining the Convention on Supplementary Compensation(CSC), Reddy said it was for the government to take a decision in the interests of the nation.

He denied that the Bill was aimed at appeasing the United States, saying many countries in the world had the capacity to give nuclear fuel to India. He said India was among two of 30 countries engaged in nuclear power generation that did not have domestic legislation on this or were party to an international convention. Since the nuclear industry in the country was expanding, it was necessary that India also had domestic legislation governing this, Reddy added.

He said the Bill was needed as part of efforts to boost power production. The bill would provide more opportunities to Indian suppliers, including those in the private sector, he added.

The Civil Liability of Nuclear Damage Bill, 2010, was introduced in the Lok Sabha in the budget session and sent to the standing committee.

The committee, which completed its work after an extension of more than a month, heard about 70 witnesses, including secretaries of the government, NGOs, industry, trade unions, experts and insurance companies. The 31-member committee, which visited nuclear facilities at Kalpakkam and Tarapur, also invited suggestions through advertisements in newspapers.

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