The Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill 2010

Currently, all nuclear power plants and facilities in India are owned by the central government or its Public Sector Undertakings.  The liability due to any damage caused by these plants are borne by the central government.  The Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill, 2010 addresses the issue of liability of private operators of nuclear plants.  It caps the liability of any incident at SDR 300 million (approximately Rs 2100 crore at current conversion rates); the maximum liability of any single operator is capped at Rs 500 crore.  The liability of any damage beyond this level will lie with the central government. 

There are four international conventions on this issue:  The 1960 Paris Convention, The 1963 Vienna Convention, 1997 Protocol to Amend Vienna Convention and 1997 Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage.  India is not a party to any of these conventions.

The Indo-U.S. Civilian Nuclear Agreement was enacted successfully in October, 2008. The agreement was to facilitate civilian nuclear partnership between United States and India along with many other mutual benefits on the term that India will separate its civilian and military nuclear facilities and put civilian facilities under the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspection. 

To facilitate nuclear commerce and attract U.S. private companies involved in nuclear commerce, it is necessary to pass the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill. Nuclear Liability Bill will thus define the financial and legal liabilities upon the involved groups, manufacturers, operators and government in case a nuclear accident occurs. In this case the suppliers and builders will be the U.S. private companies and the operator will be the Indian government controlled Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL).

The motive behind the bill is also to legally and financially bind the operator and the government to provide relief to the affected population in the case of a nuclear accident. But the amount of financial assistance and legal relief is a point of debate as it is being considered insufficient and unsatisfactory. Other than this, the bill contain certain clauses which if implemented will let free the manufacturer and supplier legally and to a large extent financially as well.

According to the groups opposing the bill – in case of a nuclear mishap which if occurs due to defect in manufacturing process or the imported facilities, the manufacturers and suppliers are also culpable and should be financially and legally liable as well.
Under fire from the Opposition BJP and Left parties, the UPA government was forced to defer the contentious Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill.

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