The Government today dropped a controversial amendment to a contentious clause on the liability of suppliers in case of accident in the civil nuclear damages bill, virtually adopting an amendment moved by the Opposition BJP in a bid to evolve a consensus on the measure.
Moving the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damages Bill, 2010 in the Lok Sabha, Minister of State in the PMO Prithviraj Chavan, tabled an amendment to Clause 17(B) which now now does not not have the word "intent" with regard to suppliers or their employees in causing an accident in a nuclear plant.
The rephrased amendment now now reads "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 sub-standard services."
Significantly, the language matches the amendment moved by BJP leader Jaswant Singh, who today initiated discussion on the bill in the Lok Sabha.
The action of the government, which has tabled 18 amendments to the bill that was considered by a Standing Committee of Parliament, came after intense negotiations with the Opposition.
Commending the bill to the House for its consideration, Chavan said the government had sought to evolve a broad consensus on the legislation by trying to take on board the concerns of opposition parties.
The original version of the amendment had come under sharp attack from the BJP and Left parties as it provided for proving the "intent" of a supplier of causing an accident if an operator were to claim compensation.
The parties had contended that it was impossible to prove an intent on the part of suppliers or their employees in case of an accident.
After the Union Cabinet cleared amendments to the bill, Chavan held meetings leaders of BJP and Left and promised to rework the formulation of Clause 17 following stiff objections from the opposition.
The controversial word "intent" found its mention in an earlier government amendment, which was different from the one recommended by the Parliamentary Committee that examined the bill.
He also justified the addition of Clause 7, which provides for government assuming "full liability" for a nuclear installation not operated by it if it is of the opinion that it is necessary in public interest. This is aimed at taking insurance cover for a nuclear installation.
Chavan explained that the raise in the compensation cap from Rs. 500 crore to Rs. 1,500 crore matches a similar provision in the US.
Seeking the support of the House for the proposed law, which is crucial for India's nuclear deals with various countries, Chavan said the legislation is required for providing prompt compensation to victims in the event of a nuclear accident without having to go through legal processes.
Pressing his point, he cited the Bhopal gas leak case and said that in the absence of a relevant law, the victims had run from pillar to post and wait for long for compensation.
The minister said 28 nations having nuclear power generation had the liability law but India and Pakistan were the only two countries which did not have such a law.
Apparently rejecting criticism that the government was hustling with the bill ahead of US President Barrack Obama's visit to the country, he said "It (liability law) is only for protection of victims...It is certainly not to please any country or any leader."
He said the law will enable provision of "upfront compensation" to the victims without any litigation, cutting short jurisdiction of Indian courts. However, it would not bypass any other existing civil or criminal laws.
The role of each of the actors involved in the Indian nuclear programme -- operator, vendor, seller and government -- has to be codified and responsibility fixed on them, the minister said, adding "This is precisely what the bill seeks to achieve."
He noted that the bill involves technical, economic and legal dimensions and tried to take on board the concerns of all political parties.
Contending that there was "unprecedented consensus" among political parties over the bill, Chavan credited the predecessor NDA government with initiating the process of Indo-US civil nuclear deal.
"That (NDA) government could not complete the task. The task fell on us and are carrying it forward," he said.