India cannot deny its citizens the right to seek compensation against manufacturers of a nuclear plant if an accident takes place, senior officials said, ruling out the possibility of accommodating US demands on this count.
Rules under the Indian nuclear liability law notified ahead of the meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and US President Barack Obama in Bali on Friday had made the claims of a nuclear operator against the supplier time-bound. This was done to assuage American concerns, but had not accommodated two key US demands.
Admitting that the US concerns may not have been completely taken care of, a source said citizens' right to file tort claims for damages, particularly in the post-Fukushima situation, cannot be diluted.
Along with simmering protests against nuclear plants in different parts of the country, the government is also faced with stiff demands by the opposition parties for expansive liability provisions against nuclear suppliers.
Most countries wanting to partner with India's emerging nuclear sector are apprehensive of the Indian Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act passed by Parliament last August. The US had opposed the two provisions.
The first is section 46 that allows citizens to file tort claims for damages, which the US argued would expose its companies to unlimited liability in the wake of an accident. The new rules do not touch this section, leaving the US concerns unaddressed.
The second US objection pertained to section 17(b) that lets the nuclear plant operator a right of recourse against nuclear suppliers.
In a bid to address the American concerns, the rules say that this covers the product liability period -- for which a supplier accepts liability for an accident caused by defective equipment in a written contract -- or the initial licence period, whichever is longer. This could well get into contention.
However, the government's ability to manoeuvre was limited by the BJP and Left demanding unlimited supplier liability. Both the Left and the BJP have flayed the government even for the minor tweaking that brings in a time bar. "The rules notified under the Civil Nuclear Liability Act have diluted the provisions of liability for the foreign suppliers," the CPM said. "This particular rule is at variance with the act and its intent," said BJP leader Yashwant Sinha.