BYPASSING INDIA’S INTERESTS TO PLEASE US?
Friday, 20 September 2013 | Kumar Chellappan | CHENNAI
The move by the Manmohan Singh Government to dilute the provisions of the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act 2010 by incorporating the suggestions of the Attorney-General has upset top nuclear scientists and former members of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC).
The Civil Liability of Nuclear Damage Act was enacted by both Houses of Parliament in August 2010 with the purpose of holding the supplier of the equipment responsible for any mishaps resulting out of the malfunctioning of imported nuclear reactors and for ensuring prompt compensation to the victims of the nuclear accident.
Since the US nuclear industry was not happy with the stringent provisions in the Act, the US Government has been putting pressure on India to water down the Act to suit the convenience of that country’s industry, which wants to tap the trillions of dollars worth of nuclear energy market in India.
Attorney-General of India GE Vahanvati in a note to the Department of Atomic Energy, which referred the matter to him on September 4, has advised that it is for the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL), which is the sole operator of nuclear reactors in the country to decide whether to exercise the right of recourse provided by Section 17 of the Act which enables it to claim compensation in the event of a nuclear disaster.
According to the note submitted by the AG, the NPCIL could do away with the right to claim compensation from the manufacturer/supplier of the equipment in the event of a nuclear accident. The AG’s note comes at a time when US companies like Westinghouse and General Electric are trying to hard sell their nuclear reactors to India, much against the wishes of Indian nuclear engineers and scientists.
The Government has already diluted the powers of NPCIL by packing it with hangers on and acolytes, pointed out nuclear scientists working in BARC and the IGCAR.
Top nuclear scientists including former members of the Atomic Energy Commission described the AG’s note as an attempt to surrender the nuclear sovereignty of India at the feet of the US Government by diluting the provisions of the Civil Liability of Nuclear Damage Act passed in Parliament. “Efforts to water down the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act is with an eye to hand over the entire nuclear industry of the country to the control of the United States of America,” AN Prasad, former member, AEC, told The Pioneer.
The Act was necessitated for operationalising the India-US civil nuclear deal of 2008 which helped India getting trading status with the Nuclear Suppliers Group enabling it to import nuclear reactors and fuel from the members of the NSG.
The US manufacturers of nuclear reactors too insisted that India should enact the civil liability Act so that they could claim insurance in their country in the event of any accidents involving the reactors supplied by them.
The Act ran into a controversy following the UPA Government’s decision to cap the maximum compensation it could claim from the foreign manufacturers to Rs 1,500 crores.
The US Government was insisting on behalf of the nuclear industry in that country to amend the Civil Liability of Nuclear Damage Act to free them from paying any compensation to the victims of any nuclear mishap in India resulting out of the equipment supplied by them.
“They want a safeguard in the Act which would absolve the US equipment suppliers of any kind of liability in the eventuality of an accident. It was the absence of such a safeguard and Act which helped Union Carbide to go scot-free though the 1984 leak in its Bhopal unit killed more than 20,000 people,” said a senior scientist in Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, Trombay, near Mumbai.
He pointed out that the 1,000 MW nuclear reactor at Koodankulam has been built on the condition that the supplier, Russia, need not pay any compensation to India in the eventuality of an accident.
“The Americans, French and the Japanese are asking for the same liberal terms,” said the scientist who did not want his name to be quoted.
Prasad, who is also the former director of the elite Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, Trombay, near Mumbai, said the India-USA Civil Nuclear Deal itself was detrimental to the interests of India.
“Though the deal was signed in 2008, the Indian nuclear industry stays where it was prior to 2008. Not a single megawatt of nuclear power has been generated additionally during the last six years. We have to be content with the 20 nuclear reactors spread across the country contributing 4,000 MW of electric power,” he said.
Prominent nuclear scientists pointed out that the once powerful Atomic Energy Commission, Atomic Energy Regulatory Board and the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (which operates Indian nuclear reactors) have been jam-packed with stooges.
However, A Gopalakrishnan, former chairman, Atomic Energy Regulatory Board was of the view that there is no way for the Government other than sticking to the law enacted by Parliament.
“If they want to make any changes in the Civil Liability of Nuclear Damage Act, they have to get the permission of Parliament. They cannot bypass Parliament like that,” said A Gopalakrishnan.
A serving nuclear scientist too pointed out that the Nuclear Liability Law is an Act passed by the Indian Parliament and the Government has no way other than following the law in letter and spirit.
“However, the nuclear suppliers are not happy with the provisions in the Bill, which make them liable to pay compensation in the eventuality of an accident. They are lobbying with the Indian Government to amend the law so that they could sell their reactors to India,’ said Prasad.
He pointed out that Manmohan Singh was not at all enthusiastic about getting the Civil Liability of Nuclear Damage Act passed in Parliament since the onus would be on the suppliers in the eventuality of nuclear accidents.
“In 2008, the then chairman of AEC Anil Kakodkar declared that the country would set up 600 nuclear reactors with total capacity of 1,200 GW by 2040. It is humanly impossible to set up 600 reactors in a country like India in 30 years,” said Prasad.