The Indian parliament has approved a bill that sets up a mechanism to compensate victims and defines who is liable, and to what extent, in the case of a nuclear accident. The bill makes nuclear supplier firms, in addition to the nuclear facility operator, potentially liable for such an accident.
The Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill passed the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of the Indian parliament, Aug. 30 amid intense debate.
The bill seeks to enable the entry of private firms into the Indian civil nuclear market. Private nuclear firms typically require a legal cap on liability in order to insure themselves against accidents in a given country, and
The U.S.-India Business Council in
In 2005, President George W. Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced an approach to easing
A critical part of the new approach to
Article 17(b) of the liability bill states that the operator of an Indian nuclear facility has a “right of recourse” from the “supplier of the material, equipment or services” in the event of a “nuclear incident” resulting from the supplier’s “willful act or gross negligence.” The government-owned Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd. (NPCIL) currently is the only operator of nuclear power plants in
The Congress Party-led coalition government had attempted to change the supplier liability language so the right of recourse would only apply if there was “intent to cause nuclear damage” on the part of the supplier, but opposition complaints led to the removal of that language. International conventions governing nuclear liability, including the CSC, channel liability exclusively to the operator.
The Indian government is not party to any of those conventions. In a 2008 letter to U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns, Indian Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon said
The liability bill also intends to “ensure clarity of liability and the requirement to pay compensation” to those who suffer physical or economic harm “caused by or arising out of a nuclear incident,” according to the “Statement of Objects and Reasons” attached to the text of the bill. In the event of such an incident, compensation is to be awarded by a specially appointed commissioner or by a central government commission in special cases. Article 46 clarifies that additional “proceeding[s]” may be brought against the operator of a nuclear facility under existing Indian law. This article potentially exposes the NPCIL to additional liability, and it is unclear how it would affect foreign suppliers.
There was a heated parliamentary debate on the legislation, including accusations that the bill was intended to shield
In Aug. 25 remarks before the Lok Sabha, the lower house of parliament, Singh argued that the bill “completes [
Indian Atomic Energy Commission Chairman Srikumar Banerjee insisted that the bill is “India-centric” in an interview with
The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had been critical of the bill, with senior BJP member Jaswant Singh accusing the government of “hustling” the bill through parliament. The BJP initially complained that the bill was too lenient toward suppliers and that the liability cap for operators was too low. However, after the government made several changes to the bill, including a tripling of operator liability, the BJP supported the legislation. In a press release on the party’s Web site, senior BJP leaders accused the government of initially attempting to pass a “suppliers immunity law,” but expressed “satisfaction” with the changes.