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Row over nuclear liability law ahead of PM's US visit

delhi Updated: Sep 19, 2013 20:02 IST

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Ahead of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to the US, a controversy has broken out over the nuclear liability law with reports suggesting that an agreement will be signed which may not be in tune with the law.

The Cabinet Committee on Security will consider a proposal to sign an agreement between Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) and the US-based operator Westinghouse Electric Company. The US sees the Civil Liability for Nuclear Disaster Act as hurdle in selling nuclear reactors to India.

The law allows NPCIL to seek partial compensation from suppliers if their reactors are involved in a nuclear accident. But in an opinion to the Department of Atomic Energy, Attorney General G E Vahanvati is learnt to have stated that it is upto the nuclear plant operator to invoke section 17 of the Act regarding liability of suppliers in case of a mishap.

The opinion will help New Delhi sign the contract. But the government sought to downplay the controversy saying that there will be no dilution on the issue and the interest of India will be protected.

External affairs minister Salman Khurshid said while India needs energy, it will get it at its "own terms and conditions." He said the two sides have their own points of view, the discussions should result in a "win-win" situation for both the sides.

The Left parties has warned the government that it would commit an "illegal act" if it tried to dilute the Civil Nuclear Liability Act or signed any agreement for supply of nuclear reactors during the upcoming US visit of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

"If the government wants to succumb to US pressures (to clinch a deal), I am afraid they will be shown as having done an illegal act which will be against the interests of the country," CPI(M) General Secretary Prakash Karat told reporters here.

"The effort of the Manmohan Singh government to dilute the Civil Nuclear Liability Act to exempt US suppliers of reactors from the liability clause will be an illegal attempt to bypass the law passed by Parliament," he said, adding, "The Americans want to sell the reactors on their terms but they will have to abide by the laws of this country..."

Karat was reacting to reports that government was moving to clear a deal to acquire nuclear reactors from US major Westinghouse Corp and sign an agreement during Singh's visit.