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N-liability bill under scanner

Talks are on between US companies and officials of India's top nuclear agency, the Department of Atomic Energy, to find a way to commercialise an agreement signed two years ago by the governments of the two countries.

world Updated: Oct 27, 2010 00:48 IST
Yashwant Raj

Talks are on between US companies and officials of India's top nuclear agency, the Department of Atomic Energy, to find a way to commercialise an agreement signed two years ago by the governments of the two countries.

“They are meeting even as we speak,” said a senior Indian official familiar with the negotiations, admitting the outcome could not be predicted, “it's between the people talking.”

Officials from leading US energy companies with nuclear capabilities — Westinghouse and GE — are in talks with officials of the DAE to find a way around the nuclear liability bill.

US government and American companies have felt betrayed after the passage of the Nuclear Liability Bill, which, they say, is heavily loaded against suppliers, going against the international protocol.

India has argued for, one, the bill as passed by Parliament was irrevocable and, two, the Bill in its passed state is pretty much in line with the Convention on Supplementary Compensation for nuclear damage.

The US doesn’t buy it, of course, and wants suppliers' liability limited to an internationally accepted compensation. And India insists the Bill was on lines prescribed in the international convention. The US has felt cheated on this count.

“We are looking very stupid,” an US official said, adding, “we worked very hard to give India this deal, going against international sentiment, and this is what we get.”

A senior Indian government official who was here in connection with discussions about President's Barack Obama's visit to India is believed to have offered the CSC as the way out of the morass.

“The convention would overtake the national law,” the official is believed to have offered to his American interlocutors. The situation is not as clear and simple as being made out.

“The US has made BP shell out $20 billion for the Gulf of Mexico oil spill,” an Indian analyst said “they should give us a level playing field.”