Cabinet changes n-Bill after attack by BJP, Left

New Delhi, Aug. 20: The Union Cabinet, chaired by the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, has lent its stamp of approval to the contentious Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill, thereby clearing the decks for it to be placed in Parliament next week.

The Bill faced a major hiccup when the BJP decided to roll back support since they believed the agreed draft had been tampered with. Bowing to pressure, the government agreed to remove the controversial insertions which would dilute the liability of the suppliers. During the Cabinet meeting, the Prime Minister had personally insisted that the Opposition’s criticism be accommodated. The Opposition had wanted the word “and” connecting two sub-clauses in the draft legislation to be removed.

Eighteen official amendments have been made to the earlier draft, thereby changing it substantially as also strengthening its preamble. Once the bill is passed, it will give a green signal to start building six nuclear reactors in Jaitpur (Maharashtra) to help produce 10,000 MWs of power.

“The amended draft places the onus of compensation on the operator who cannot seek recourse in any law court till such time as he pays full compensation within the stipulated three-month period,” said minister for science and technology, Mr Prithviraj Chavan.

“This will become the largest power plant in India. The same capacity of solar power would have required 20,000 hectares of land as against 6,000 ha for nuclear power,” said the minister for science and technology, mr Prithviraj Chavan, clarifying details of the amended draft. Trying to put to rest the charge that the bill was slated to favour the US, as has been claimed by the Left parties, Mr Chavan explained that "Westinghouse-Mitsubishi and GE Hitachi will be building reactors (in India) but these cannot be called American companies."
Elaborating on some of the changes, Mr Chavan said, "The amended draft places the onus of compensation on the operator who cannot seek recourse in any law court till such time as he pays full compensation within the stipulated three-month period."
"No fault liability will be paid within a time frame. This does not mean that other liabilities, including criminal and civil liability, are switched off. The operator can file a suit provided victims are paid," the minister said.
The draft allowed for the appointment of a commissioner whose decision on details of liability would be final, he said. The government has decided to create a three-tier system of compensation by setting up large nuclear facilities, smaller research reactors and nuclear fuel cycle facilities.
"There will be different levels of compensation for each of these facilities though the maximum liability will remain to the order of Rs 1,500 crore," the minister said. A joint venture with National Power Corporation of India Ltd and NTPC has also been created with both sharing 50 per cent equity. Private Indian companies, including Tata Power and L&T, would continue to have a minority role in the initial role because complex issues, including disposal of waste fuel and decommissioning of a plant, need to be worked out.
The bill will not apply to reactors being run by the government since government-run plants do not need to take insurance. Certain nuclear facilities in the defence sector will use India-mined uranium and will therefore not be subjected to any external supervision.
Indian uranium is not of good quality and the cost of production is four times more than of what is available in the international market .
The date of introduction of the bill in Parliament is expected to be decided at a meeting of the business advisory committee of the Lok Sabha.
US energy firms, whose liabilities are not covered by the government, were unwilling to invest despite the potential, thereby allowing French and Russian state-owned nuclear firms, whose liabilities are to be underwritten by their governments, to sign a slew of deals to build power plants in India.
Mr Chavan said atomic energy was "vitally important" for India and a priority for the government because "economic growth cannot be sustained without adequate energy".
"The expansion of India’s nuclear programme is essential to provide electricity to the poor and we hope the Left (parties) will support us on this," the minister said. Almost 40 per cent of Indian households are still without electricity, he added.The current installed capacity is 1.64 lakh electricity MWs while the current installed nuclear capacity was less than three per cent of total capacity at 4 .599 MWs. Mr Chavan added that 1.47 lakh tons of uranium was required to create 10,000 MWs of electricity for 10 years.

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