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N-liability bill tabled in LS; oppn walks out
Published on 7 May. 2010 11:13 PM IST
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: Government Friday introduced in the Lok Sabha the contentious nuclear liability bill that provides for compensation in case of a nuclear accident, but terming the bill “unconstitutional and illegal” the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Left MPs staged a walkout.
The Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill, 2010, whose passage is a key requirement for implementing the landmark 2008 India-US nuclear deal, will now be referred to the parliamentary standing committee. The government is hopeful of bringing it up for consideration in the monsoon session of parliament.
“The bill will go to the concerned standing committee, which would deliberate upon it in the next two months. I hope it will come up with the report in the monsoon session,” Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal said.
After the bill was moved by Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) Prithviraj Chavan Friday, the last day of parliament’s budget session, the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and the Left parties dismissed it as “unconstitutional” and walked out of the house.
The Biju Janata Dal (BJD), the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and the AIADMK also protested.
However, the Samajwadi Party (SP), the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), which had opposed the bill when it was moved in March, did not join the protest.
“It’s contrary to the articles of the constitution,” BJP leader Yashwant Sinha told the house. Sinha accused the government of acting under US pressure.
The Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill, 2010, fixes the maximum amount of liability in case of a nuclear accident at Rs.500 crore, to be paid by the operator of the nuclear plant. The opposition parties have argued this amount was too little and have asked the government to hike the compensation amount.
The bill also provides for the appointment of a claims commissioner and the establishment of a Nuclear Damage Claims Commission.
Leader of Opposition Sushma Swaraj stressed that her party had conveyed to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that the bill should be amended. But the government, she added, was “adamant” on introducing it in the present form.
Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) leader Basudeb Acharia said the bill was against the spirit of the constitution.
Those opposing the bill argued that the proposed legislation would violate Article 21 of the Constitution, a fundamental right that guarantees right to life. They also alleged that it compromises the right of victims to approach courts for enhanced compensation.
In the statement of objects and reasons in the bill, Science and Technology Minister Prithviraj Chavan said: “Many countries, which are engaged in nuclear power generation are having their own legislations and some of them are party to one or other regimes”.
He said India was not party to any of the nuclear liability conventions.
“Indian nuclear industry has been developed within the context of a domestic framework established by the Atomic Energy Act, 1962. There is no provision in the said Act about the nuclear liability or compensation for nuclear damage due to nuclear accident or incident and no other law deals with nuclear liability for nuclear damage in the event of nuclear incident.”
Chavan said: “It is, therefore, considered necessary to enact a legislation which provides for nuclear liability that might arise due to a nuclear incident and also on the necessity of joining an international liability regime.”
Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, along with Bansal, countered a voluble opposition by contending that the members could not speak on the merits of the bill at the introduction stage. They could only talk about legislative competence of the house in taking up the proposed legislation, they added.
Earlier, the government had deferred tabling of the bill in the first half of the budget session in March in the face of a hostile opposition.

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