LS clears N-liability Bill after Centre drops intent on BJP amendment

Written by Political Bureau | New Delhi | Updated: Aug 27 2010, 04:24am hrs
The Lok Sabha on Wednesday cleared the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill, 2010, in an atmosphere of rare bipartisanship, with the UPA government not only giving in to major amendments proposed by the Opposition but also acknowledging that it was the Vajpayee-led NDA government that laid the groundwork for ending what Prime Minister Manmohan Singh termed as nuclear apartheid against India.

Moving the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damages Bill, 2010, in the Lok Sabha, minister of state for science and technology, Prithviraj Chavan, tabled an amendment to Clause 17(B) which now does not have the word intent with regard to suppliers or their employees in causing an accident in a nuclear plant. The rephrased amendment now reads the nuclear incident has resulted as a consequence of an act of supplier or his employee, which includes supply of equipment or material with patent or latent defects or sub-standard services.

The language matches the amendment moved by BJP leader Jaswant Singh, who on Wednesday initiated a discussion on the Bill in the Lok Sabha. The government also declared that the upper limit cap for claiming damages in the event of a nuclear accident had been raised from Rs 500 crore to Rs 1,500 crore, and any change in the same could be effected by an executive order.

While commending the Bill to the House for its consideration, Chavan not only built a strong case for nuclear energy being the fuel of the future but also highlighted the bipartisan nature of the process on the Bill. The genesis of the Indo-US civil nuclear cooperation deal was actually in 2002, when Russian reactor technology was used to set up a nuclear power plant in Kudankulam, he said.

This Bill is for the prompt payment of compensation of victims of nuclear accidents, he said. We hope to never have to invoke this Bill, he added.

Chavan, the main architect of the consensus between the Opposition and government on the issue, said that the Bill was historic in the sense that it had brought together unprecedented political consensus.

The BJP which had made sure that its distinctive stamp was left on the Bill fielded former external affairs minister Jaswant Singh as its main speaker. Singh, while articulating his partys agreement with the Bill, did not spare the government some homilies. The central relevance of the Bill is that it seeks to import nuclear fuel. It is a buyers market and we want the government to be mindful of that. Why do we have to follow the dictates of the US senate India must take its place in the comity of nations, but not as a supplicant nation, but at the head of this comity, he said.

After its passage in the Lok Sabha, the Bill will now be introduced in the Rajya Sabha tomorrow.

PM: This ends our nuclear isolation

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who risked his government in the previous term to champion the Indo-US civil nuclear agreement, today saw what he termed as the completion of a journey to end Indias nuclear isolation.

Indeed, bipartisan support for the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damages Bill, 2010, also signalled a sort of closure to bitter relations between the Congress and the BJP. While speaker after speaker, including the BJPs Jaswant Singh alleged that the haste with which the Bill was being hustled through Parliament was because of US pressure, the Prime Minister appeared calm under pressure.

Accusations have been made against me earlier as well, when I tabled the Budget for 1992 on the floor of this House. At that time almost the entire Opposition accused me of having framed the budget under instructions from the United States. But subsequent events absolved me, as will this, he said.

The history of development is not about technical innovation. Development is about widening options available to us and making it available to society, he said.