10 June 2010

Government dilutes nuclear bill under U.S. pressure

Foreign suppliers to be let off even if accident caused by their gross negligence ...

10 June 2010
The Hindu

Government dilutes nuclear bill under U.S. pressure

Siddharth Varadarajan

New Delhi: At Washington's request, the Manmohan Singh government has agreed to delete a key provision of the draft civil nuclear liability bill allowing American suppliers to be sued for recovery of damages in the event of an accident caused by gross negligence on their part.

Although the bill channels all liability for a nuclear accident on to the operator of the facility, Section 17 of the draft tabled in Parliament last month allows the operator a ‘right of recourse' — legalese for the right to recover any compensation it is forced to pay — under three circumstances. These are if (a) such a right is expressly provided for in a contract in writing; (b) the nuclear incident has resulted from the wilful act or gross negligence on the part of the supplier of the material, equipment, or of his employee, and (c) the nuclear incident has resulted from the act of commission or omission of a person done with intent to cause nuclear damage.

Of these, only (a) and (c) find mention in the model law specified by the Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage (CSC). The CSC, which India will accede to, however, does not prohibit the inclusion of additional provisions. Indeed, some countries have already included gross negligence by suppliers as grounds for invoking the right of recourse in their liability laws. Article 4 of the South Korean Act on Compensation for Nuclear Damage, for example, includes language similar to 17(b) of the Indian draft.

When the Indian bill's provisions were made public, senior officials took pride in the inclusion of 17(b), which they said was needed to deter suppliers from being negligent taking their safety obligations lightly; 17(a) alone was inadequate, they said, since no supplier agreed to accept liability of negligence in a contract. But pressure from Washington seems to have prompted a rethink.

On March 8 and April 1, The Hindu had reported how the U.S. nuclear industry was upset with 17(b) and wanted it deleted for fear it would “open the door to more lawsuits.” The government has now obliged the American side by getting rid of this sub-clause entirely.

Window for action

The only window for legal action against a supplier of faulty or unsafe equipment is now Section 46 of the nuclear bill, which says the Act's provisions “shall be in addition to, and not in derogation of, any other law for the time being in force.” This, say Indian officials, will allow the filing of tort claims and even criminal charges in case a nuclear accident is caused by negligence on the part of the nuclear operator or its equipment suppliers.

But the draft bill contains no provisions to make the filing and pursuit of these claims or charges easier, raising the prospect of lengthy and eventually fruitless litigation of the sort the victims of the Bhopal gas disaster have had to endure for 25 years.


Sidrah Fatma Ahmed said...

The Government of India needs to take a stand to protect its poor. The elitist attitude has had the poor living on the edges for a long time now.
The Bhopal Gas Tragedy is the worst industrial disaster but still Anderson got a clean slate and an easy escape thanks to our worthy Supreme Court that forgets its role as a judicial body made for the people.
The Independence of Judiciary by the constitution has led to nothing but malfunction and of course the governments time and expertise goes in appeasing the US now days.

Delhi Goon said...

Sometimes (which is most of the times) I feel the UPA is working for the USA.

While Obama's doing his apparently level best to nail BP and still facing fall in ratings, skeletons are falling helter skelter out of Congress' cupboard on how their administration aided the 'Great Escape' of Warren Anderson.

Sir, your article makes it clear that with the dilution of the Nuclear Liability Bill, the UPA is planning to plant a Union Carbide in each of our backyards. How I miss the days when the Left was part of the Government and leveraged its position to formulate people friendly policies. A lesson indeed for the upcoming elections in WB.

Anonymous said...

I am an Engineer, not a lawyer to understand who's liability it is in the event of catastrophe.

Engineers design things with a tremendous 'factor-of-safety'. Take example of household LPG gas cylinder found in our homes. Out of all cylinders that are being used in India, how many explode? In almost all of the cases, the mistake is made by 'operator'; and has got nothing to do with 'supplier' or 'manufacturer'. It's just that you weren't supposed to light up a match stick when you smelled the gas and you did!

Ofcourse manufacturers give warranty for a certain period on the equipment that they sell, but never agree to any liability for using it dangerously.

If that were the case, all cigarrette manufacturers would be bankrupt and closed shops by now.

The bill should instead cover aspects like 'the supplier should be accountable for training people and evaluating and maintaining the equipment for safety for X years. Or something along those lines.

vishnu said...

i am begining to think that the left had a point in accusing govt on being a american fan through ana through. The UPA govt should stop going after american norms. We should not allow foreign intervention in our policy making .The proposea nuclear liability bill will be a heavy burden in future