N-liability cap to be raised

New Delhi, July 13: The government is planning to make sweeping changes to the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill, including substantively raising the compensation amount as also reframing it so that some quantum of liability is placed on the suppliers.

At present, the civil liability cap had been placed at Rs 500 crores, which had been criticised by the BJP and the Left parties who had demanded a revision given the scale of devastation that can be caused by a nuclear accident. The government had not put any cap on criminal liability.

More significantly, heeding criticism that operators would be held liable while suppliers of equipment would be allowed to go scot-free, there is a move, senior sources within the government claim, to re-frame the bill so that liability is also placed on the suppliers.

“This cannot be open-ended. The US has placed its cap at $12 billion. But in the US, this capping amount had been accumulated over the years by a consortium of companies and was not a financial injection given by the government. In India, nuclear power plants are government-owned and run by the Nuclear Power Corporation which is a public sector unit,” a source added.

A parliamentary committee headed by the Congress MP, Mr T. Subbarami Reddy, conducting a four-day marathon session on the bill, will be interacting with representatives from the environment and health ministries, trade unions and insurance sector experts.

Another change being introduced will ensure that compensation will be paid out within three months. This clause is being introduced to take the sting out of the delays in the Bhopal gas leak case in which victims have waited 26 years and still have not received justice.

The BJP leader, Mr Yashwant Sinha, deposed before committee and pointed out that the Bill was unconstitutional and had been pushed through under pressure from the US.

Though the UPA has the numbers in the Lok Sabha, in the Rajya Sabha it needs the cooperation of the BJP and the Left. The BJP had made it clear that the bill could not be supported in its present form.

The passing of the legislation is one of the last remaining steps required to operationalise the 2008 India-US civil nuclear cooperation agreement.

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