The Nuclear Safety Regulatory Authority Bill is becoming a new flashpoint between the government and the civil society.
The bone of contention is two clauses in the bill which aims to restrict application of transparency law --- the Right To Information (RTI) --- in nuclear energy establishments.
These provisions will prevent the citizens from seeking sensitive information regarding nuclear and radiation safety even though section 8 of the RTI Act provides adequate protection of legitimate needs of information which should not be disclosed.
Aruna Roy led National Campaign for People’s Right To Information (NCPRI) is spearheading a campaign against restrictions on enforcement of RTI law in nuclear establishments in name of protecting commercial confidentiality of technology holders.
Information Commission Shailesh Gandhi and noted jurist Fali Nariman have written to the Prime Minister urging him to withdraw these provisions saying these clauses will not help in building public opinion in favour of nuclear plants.
“A high degree of transparency in such matters will go a long way in building people’s confidence in the government’s ability to establish and maintain nuclear energy facilities,” Gandhi said in a letter to PM, who also holds the portfolio of atomic energy.
Fali Nariman said the amendments were “unnecessary” and against the letter and spirit of the Act. “I am distressed to hear that the government of India proposes amendments to the RTI Act - it is submitted that these amendments are unnecessary. In view of the adequate protection for all legitimate interests provided for under section 8 of the RTI Act,” he said.
What has irked the transparency activists is that the bill provides for penal action against persons who disclose the information regarding nuclear energy establishments. “This clause will be used as a shield to prevent disclosure of information relating to even allegations of human rights violation and corruption in such bodies,” Nariman said.
Gandhi termed the provisions as regressive in India’s parliamentary democracy towards participatory democracy. “Nuclear energy is important for the nation but transparency is more important and must not be whittled down,” Gandhi said, in his letter.
Shekhar Singh, founding member of NCPRI, believes that the clauses will impair the transparency law which has worked well so far and there was no need to tamper it.
Two CPIM members of the Parliamentary Standing Committee CPI(M) Saman Pathak and Anup Kumar Saha gave dissent notes contending that the Bill failed to provide substantive autonomy to the NSRA. They said the Bill seeks to make the Authority subservient to the Central government. “Such a regulatory structure will be ineffective and not carry credibility with the people,” Pathak and Sahu said.