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Nuclear bill report today
Published on 18 Aug. 2010 12:38 AM IST
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Ending weeks of impasse over the contentious civil nuclear liability bill, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Tuesday indicated its willingness to accept the trebling of compensation in case of an accident to Rs 1,500 crore, a key proposal contained in a panel’s report that will be tabled in parliament Wednesday.
The parliamentary standing committee on science and technology looking into the bill Tuesday finalised its report which recommends raising of the compensation cap from Rs 500 crore, as provided in the earlier draft, to Rs 1,500 crore or “such other enhanced amount notified by the government from time to time,” well-placed sources said.
With a view to fast-tracking the passage of the legislation in the ongoing monsoon session of parliament, the Congress called for forging consensus on the bill, a prerequisite for implementing the landmark India-US civil nuclear deal.
The BJP, which had earlier resisted any mention of a cap in the proposed legislation, appeared to have settled for the revised amount because of the provision for a further hike through a government notification if required.
The breakthrough came when Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee met top BJP leaders, including L.K. Advani, Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj and her counterpart in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley, in a bid to bridge the differences.
BJP leaders said the suggestions made by the party had been received well and were likely to be incorporated in the report. The party, however, clarified that it will take a decision on supporting the bill after seeing the fine print of changes in the legislation.
“So far, it is positive,” a senior BJP leader said after the meeting of the standing committee.
“Every issue raised by the members was discussed threadbare and amendments suggested by them are being considered,” T. Subbirami Reddy, the chairman of the standing committee, told reporters outside parliament.
Hinting at an increase in the capping amount, Reddy said: “I cannot divulge much, but I can say that we have incorporated many suggestions in the bill.”
“We had 24 meetings... all are being consulted including trade union leaders. The bill is in the interest of the nation,” he added.
The Left parties, including the CPI-M, the CPI and the Forward Bloc, still have some reservations about the legislation and are likely to oppose it when it is introduced in parliament, which could happen later this week.
The Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill, 2010, was introduced in the budget session of parliament. It was later referred to the standing committee.
The BJP appears to have relented in its opposition to the bill, which it had earlier decried as a sell-out to foreign suppliers. Jaitley said the BJP wants a provision should be made in the bill that it deals only with plants operated by the government or a government company.
“The operators’ liability should be enhanced to a minimum of Rs 1,500 crore or such other enhanced amount to be notified from time to time,” he said.
He said that a similar provision should be made concerning the total liability of an operator as increasing it without such a condition would be a cumbersome process.
“Total liability of the incident to be kept at 300 million SDRs (special drawing rights) or such other enhanced amount to be notified from time to time,” he said.
Jaitley said that supplier’s liability was weak in the bill and the party held that there should be a special provision to refer to the liability on account of transporting defective equipment.
He added that the options for operator vis-a-vis supplier in case of substandard equipment and other latent and patent issues should be strengthened.
The BJP leader said that the bill should contain a statement in the main enactment, as also in the preamble, that all liability under the act shall be “no fault liability” so that cases such as leakages are also treated as proof of negligence.
He said the party did not want the government to close its options and there should not be a direct or indirect reference to any international convention such as the Convention on Supplementary Compensation (CSC).
In a bid to fast-track the legislation, Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari told reporters that the passing of the legislation was imperative for attracting investors into the sector.
“I am sure the opposition parties would have conveyed their reservations and suggestions to the parliamentary standing committee that went into the legislation. It is a must that consensus is achieved soon and the bill passed in parliament,” he added.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is keen to get the legislation passed before US President Barack Obama arrives here in November for talks, during which the two leaders are expected to review the progress on the nuclear deal.

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