NATIONAL CONCERN: Business test for passed bill – haste makes waste, only time will tell ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
New Delhi, Aug. 25: Neither proponents nor critics appear happy with the nuclear liability bill passed by the Lok Sabha this evening after some key amendments but the business opportunities in India may help override some of the concerns of potential suppliers.
The bill, which sets down rules for liability claims and payments in the event of a nuclear accident, has tripled the compensation cap from the originally proposed Rs 500 crore to Rs 1,500 crore with liability on the operator of the nuclear installation.
An amendment to Section 17(b) of the bill seems to make it easier for an operator of a nuclear installation to seek recourse from suppliers of equipment and materials used in nuclear reactors.
The original bill had said the operator would have the right to recourse when the nuclear incident has resulted “from the wilful act or gross negligence on the part of the supplier of the material, equipment, services, or employee”.
An intermediate version had substituted the word “intent” in place of “wilful act”. Critics had objected to these words, arguing that they represented a sop for suppliers, since an operator would have to establish that an incident had resulted from malicious intent.
The amended version passed today says: “The operator of a nuclear installation, after paying the compensation for nuclear damage… shall have a right to recourse where… the nuclear incident has resulted as a consequence of an act of supplier or his employee which includes supply of equipment or material with patent or latent defects or substandard services”.
“If they’ve deleted the words ‘intent’ or ‘wilful act’, it is unlikely that we’re going to get suppliers to sell us equipment,” said an expert. “We can’t be certain it’s not going to happen — but all countries with such liability rules have ‘wilful act’ in their texts. Will suppliers make an exception and agree to provide equipment to India? We can’t be sure. We’re taking a chance,” the expert said.
However, some believe India’s large nuclear power market and the extreme low probability of a nuclear accident (nuclear installations are built with multiple redundancies and safety systems) may yet be attractive enough to draw suppliers.
The cost of imported nuclear reactors will depend on how much equipment will be sourced from within India. But nuclear power officials have indicated that imports of reactors for 10,000MW would be worth around Rs 120,000 crore to Rs 150,000 crore.
Imported reactors are likely to make up a crucial chunk of the planned 20,000MW of nuclear power capacity India hopes to have by 2020. The current installed nuclear capacity is a little over 4,000MW.
An analysis of the nuclear liability rules in 10 countries suggests that India and South Korea are the only two countries that provide right to recourse against the supplier. The analysis by the Confederation of Indian Industry says the current Indian bill may “leave ample scope to channel liabilities to the suppliers”.
The current nuclear liability laws in China, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Russia, the UK and the US channel liability exclusively to operators and do not provide a right to resource against suppliers. The right to recourse can be excluded through contract in South Korea.
Environmental activists opposing the bill have welcomed deletion of the word “intent” but have said even the tripled cap of Rs 1,500 crore is less than the compensation given to the victims of the Bhopal gas tragedy.
“Even this amended bill does not give victims of nuclear accidents the right to take suppliers to court and claim compensation,” said Karuna Raina, a nuclear campaigner with Greenpeace International, an environmental group.
Section 17[b] specifies that the operator would have a right to recourse when such a right is expressed in a contract (between an operator and a supplier). “Only the operator has the right to recourse,” Raina said.
However, sources associated with the nuclear power sector have pointed out that the objective of the bill is to ensure speedy compensation for victims and allow operators to independently pursue compensation from suppliers for damages.
How an operator seeks compensation would be determined through the language of the contract between the operator and the supplier.
According to government sources, with the right language incorporated in such a contract, an operator could seek damages from the supplier after establishing that there were patent or latent defects in equipment or that substandard services had been delivered, which led to the incident.
PM leaves it to history, BJP sees victory – ‘Intent’ out, nuclear bill sails through – ‘people before profit’ or ‘people for profit’ ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
New Delhi, Aug. 25: The Lok Sabha today passed the nuclear liability bill after the government accommodated the BJP’s concerns and the Prime Minister mounted a defence by drawing a parallel with the path-breaking economic reforms he pioneered.
All the demands of the main opposition were accepted through 18 amendments moved by the government itself but the Left’s proposals were negatived by voice vote, except one by division which threw up a score of 252-25.
In a rare parliamentary spectacle of recent times, minister of state for science and technology profusely thanked the Opposition for co-operation and Leader of the House Pranab Mukherjee walked across to the BJP benches for expressing the government’s gratitude. Although the government had sorted out the differences much in advance, the last thorn — an eleventh-hour insertion that talked about the supplier’s “intent” to cause nuclear damage — was removed by science and technology minister Prithviraj Chavan on the floor of the House. He did not move the related amendment (no 13) and replaced it with the one the BJP had suggested.
The passed version talks of the operator’s right to recourse if the nuclear incident was a consequence of an act of the supplier or his employee. This covers the supply of equipment or material with patent or latent defects or sub-standard services. During the four-hour debate, most speakers tried to target the government primarily on two points: its unfair handling of the draft by inserting words “surreptitiously” and the haste to enact the law before President Barack Obama’s visit.
BJP leader Jaswant Singh, who initiated the debate, offered little substantive opposition to the bill but wanted to know why the government had used “sleight of hand” to alter the draft after negotiating with the Opposition. Jaswant said the manner in which the government hustled the standing committee and Parliament raised suspicions.
The BJP leader said the government was being dictated by foreign suppliers, although India was on a strong wicket and no other country had such business potential as to buy around 40 reactors. The Prime Minister made a brief intervention to underscore that the bill was the completion of a journey to end apartheid against India in the field of atomic power. He also rejected allegations that the proposed legislation was designed to benefit American interests. He said: “To say that this has been brought to promote American interests, to promote American corporations, I think, this is far from the truth.”
The Prime Minister said such charges were not new as he had faced similar allegations even in 1992 when he presented the budget as the then finance minister. He recalled that the whole Opposition, with a few exceptions, demanded his impeachment on the claim that the budget had been prepared in the US.
“To say we have anyway compromised India’s national interest will be a travesty of facts,” Singh emphasised.
“History will be the judge,” the Prime Minister said and pointed to the economic reforms initiated in 1991. He said the reforms had contributed to making the country “what Jaswant Singhji called a resurgent India”.
Referring to the question whether nuclear power is a viable option, the Prime Minister said it was preferred as it was clean. “What the government has done is to create more opportunities to meet such options,” he said.
Singh said technology is not constant and was moving fast. “I cannot predict what future holds for us.”
Noting that the government was doing “everything” to ensure safety of nuclear plants, Singh said utilisation of nuclear energy was a serious issue that could not be ignored.
Chavan tried to allay fears of the Left that the victims will be left in the lurch if the nuclear accident is big because of the Rs 1,500-crore cap on the plant operator’s liability.
The minister said the compensation to be paid would be unlimited and the cap was only for insurance. He expressed the hope the safety standards would be so good that the bill would never be put to use. Chavan assured the House that India opting for the uranium-based reactors from abroad for producing electricity does not mean ongoing research on use of thorium would be given up.
No change in comma or full stop: Sushma – “good conduct” reciprocal ?!!
FROM THE TELEGRAPH
BY RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
New Delhi, Aug. 25: Few in the BJP were apologetic after the party helped pass the nuclear liability bill in the Lok Sabha today.
The picture contrasted with the fissures seen when the party had helped pass the women’s reservation bill in the Rajya Sabha this March against the wishes of its OBC MPs in a rare show of bipartisan politics.
The “good conduct” had gone down well with the Congress but many BJP MPs saw the support on the women’s bill as a “sellout” that would harm them in the long run.
No such misgivings appear to have surfaced this time. Reason? The BJP’s strategists ensured that quite a few of their amendments were adopted by the government, some reluctantly. In the process, any insinuation that the party might have sold itself short will be “convincingly” answered, senior leaders suggested.
The most crucial change the BJP forced was in sub-clause (b) of clause 17 that legalised a nuclear plant operator’s right of recourse against suppliers. The change was accepted in the face of resistance from suppliers’ lobbies in India and abroad.
The government agreed to delete the word “intent”. In one stroke, it strengthened the operators’ case because they will no longer have to prove that the suppliers of equipment and plants had intentionally wanted to cause a nuclear accident.
It will be enough to establish that the incident resulted “as a consequence of an act of supplier or his employee, which includes supply of equipment with patent or latent defects or sub-standard services”.
The amendment was moved by Jaswant Singh — taken back by the BJP after 15 months of expulsion. But the phraseology was worked out by Rajya Sabha Opposition leader Arun Jaitley in concert with Union minister Prithviraj Chavan.
Sushma Swaraj, Opposition leader in the Lok Sabha, held it up as a triumph. “The government accepted it without changing a comma or full stop.”
Many in the Congress-led ruling UPA admitted that without the BJP, the bill would have fallen through. “This is too important a bill to divide the country and polity,” a Congress minister said.
He recalled the government’s “huge” political cost for the Samajwadi Party’s support after the Left pulled the plug on UPA-I over the Indo-US nuclear deal. “Our time was spent meeting the Samajwadis’ never-ending demands, which were non-political,” the minister said.
This time, with the BJP on its side, the government ensured the Left’s sting on the liability bill was neutralised. It also didn’t have to agonise over the Yadav trio — Lalu Prasad, Mulayam Singh and Sharad.
The government is now counting on the BJP to see through the amended Enemy Property Act, which controls the fate of 2,168 properties left behind by those who renounced their Indian citizenship and migrated to Pakistan.