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Debate on Indian Civil Nuclear Liability Bill

In India, nuclear, Politics on June 16, 2010 at 2:44 pm

What is Civil Nuclear Liability Bill ?

In broad terms this bill lays down and fixes the responsibilities of nuclear suppliers and operators towards payment of compensation to victims in the event of any accident in nuclear plants supplied and operated by them.

Why do we need to adopt this bill ?

  • To instill the need for adequate safety measures by supplier as well as operator to prevent any nuclear accident and thus lower the probability of accident.
  • To safeguard the right of compensation in the event of any accident and ensure speedy & adequate compensation to the victims.
  • Adoption of this bill is prerequisite for implementation of Indo-US nuclear accord.

What are the lacunae in existing conventions of Nuclear Liability ?

  • Legal channeling of accident liability to operators.
  • Extremely limited right of recourse to operators against suppliers in the event of an accident.
  • Disallows fault based claims by victims against supplier and operator.

What are the types of liabilities ?

  • Strict Liability which has to be paid to victims by the operator notwithstanding as to who is responsible for the accident .
  • Fault Liability is to be paid by supplier or operator whose fault has caused the accident.

How does Indian Bill fare vis a vis above mentioned lacunae ?

  • It channelizes strict liability to operator and leaves no ambiguity as to who must pay.
  • Low cap of only Rs 500 crores has been placed on operators no-fault liability.
  • Section 17(b) of the bill allows operator the right of recourse against suppliers in the event of gross negligence.
  • Section 46 appears to allow claims of fault liability but is not clear if victim can sue only operator or any other agency whose negligence caused the accident.

What is the opposition ?

It is felt that Govt is under US pressure to drop sections 17(b) and 46 to free suppliers from any liability even when accident is due to their fault. Accordingly amendment was announced but vehement opposition specially in the wake of legal inadequacies highlighted in Bhopal disaster trial & conviction has forced Govt to deny any such amendment.

What is the way forward?

  • Drop the proposed amendments of section 17(b) and section 46.
  • Progress the pending original bill to enact civil nuclear liability law without further delay.

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