Centre drops ‘intent’, House passes N-Bill

New Delhi, Aug. 25: The Lok Sabha on Wednesday passed the landmark Civil Liability for Nuclear Damages Bill 2010, which aims to facilitate India’s global nuclear commerce.

The Bill was necessary for the entry of big companies such as France’s nuclear giant Areva and America’s General Electric and Westinghouse, which were unwilling to do business with India without clarity over accident compensation, thereby allowing for the opening up of the country’s $150 billion nuclear market after the government agreed to tougher provisions.

Moving the bill in the Lok Sabha, the minister of state for science and technology, Mr Prithviraj Chavan, said the government had taken on board 18 amendments, which included tripling of the liability cap on an operator in case of an accident to Rs 1,500 crore — up from Rs 500 crore.

The government removed the contentious word “intent” and amended a controversial clause stating that the operator would have the right to recourse in case of a nuclear accident if it was the consequence of an “act of the supplier or his employees done with the intent to cause nuclear damage”. It was after the government removed the word “intent” that the BJP agreed to back the Bill.

Intervening in the debate, the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, emphatically refuted charges levelled against his government for succumbing to so-called American pressure. “The accusations are far from the truth,” he said. “This Bill has nothing to do with America. Rather, it completes the process of ending nuclear apartheid against India.” A confident Prime Minister, for whom this Bill’s passage is both a political and diplomatic victory, reminded members of how when he had introduced economic reforms in 1991 he had also been accused of selling out the country’s economic interests to the US. “Any accusation that we have compromised with India’s interest would be a travesty of the truth,” he said.

Dr Singh also reminded the House that the process of civil nuclear cooperation had begun in 1999. “A lot of work had already been done. That time we were not in power,” he said.

Claiming that he could not predict what lies in the future, Dr Singh said: “Technology is not the issue right now, rather it was the regime that hindered India going for clean energy.”

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