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N-liability cap Bill slammed

The Bill that seeks to cap at Rs 2,800 crore the liability in case of a nuclear mishap has been criticised by a top jurist as contrary to India's interest and by an international environment NGO as violative of fundamental rights, reports Chetan Chauhan.

india Updated: Mar 10, 2010 00:43 IST
Chetan Chauhan

The Bill that seeks to cap at Rs 2,800 crore the liability in case of a nuclear mishap has been criticised by a top jurist as contrary to India's interest and by an international environment NGO as violative of fundamental rights.

India’s Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill, approved by the cabinet early March, fixed a maximum liability of Rs 2,800 crore for a nuclear mishap, with a maximum of Rs 500 crore for a public or a private operator. The draft Bill will enable India to sign the Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage, without which the US and other nuclear supplier countries are not willing to sell equipment to India. The country is looking to set up nuclear power plants to meet the rising demand for electricity.

The Supreme Court had clearly said the polluter pay principle was for "absolute liability" and obligation to adopt remedial measures for environmental damage, Sorabjee said.

"Importantly, the Supreme Court ruled that the precautionary principle and the polluter pay principle have been accepted as part of the law of the land and is referred to in Articles 21, 47 and 48-A of the Constitution," the former attorney general said.

Polluter pay principle basically means that the government or the company setting up the industry — in this case nuclear plant - will bear all "pollution" and remedial costs, which also includes a mishap.

Article 21 provides for protection of life and personal liberty, while Article 47 holds the state responsible for providing nutrition and improvement of public health. Article 48-A provides for improvement of environment and safeguarding forests and wildlife.

"In view of these Supreme Court judgments.… there is no warrant or justification for capping nuclear liability… as is sought to be done," Sorabjee said in his opinion to Greenpeace.

Even the environment ministry, led by Jairam Ramesh, opposed the Bill. The law fails to specify the compensation for death or damage due to an accident, it argued."The act (Bill) does not provide for interim compensation and only speaks about final compensation," the ministry said, adding impact of nuclear damage to human, animal life and environment are long-term.

The 10-year window for seeking compensation was not enough since a nuclear mishap could lead to changes in the DNA (genetic changes) that normally manifest in next generation, the ministry said.

The cabinet overruled the objections, saying the law was important to get private investment for nuclear power plants. The Bill could be taken up during the ongoing session.

"India should not forget Bhopal gas tragedy," said Karuna Raina, a nuclear campaigner with Greenpeace.

"The law will be against the interests and the cherished fundamental right to life of the people of India…"