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India's Cabinet approved Nuclear Liability Bill

India's Cabinet approved Nuclear Liability Bill

India’s Cabinet cleared a nuclear liability bill earlier today, a crucial step on the path to bringing foreign companies into its burgeoning nuclear energy market. The bill caps the liability of foreign firms at $320 million in the case of an industrial accident.

Bowing to pressure from the political opposition parties, India’s government made 18 changes in the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill, 2010, while adopting most of the recommendations made by the parliamentary standing committee.

However, the government has rejected the most controversial recommendation of the committee for the addition of a word “and” between clause 17 (a) and (b) of the proposed legislation, which talks about the nuclear power plant operator’s right to recourse for compensation from a supplier in the event of an accident. The recommendation for adding the word “and” had triggered vociferous objections from the BJP and Left parties which said it would dilute the operator’s right to seek compensation from the supplier.

“Let me assure you that of the 28 countries that have similar civil nuclear liability legislation, this Indian law is the strongest,” Science and Technology Minister Prithviraj Chavan said.

With these changes, the government seems to have pacified most of the political parties, ensuring a rather smooth passage for the bill. Both the BJP, a right-wing party and the communist Left took credit for the amendments, saying the government bowed under pressure to make the bill “India-centric” instead of “US-centric”.

Chauhan stated  that in order to ensure that the victim of a likely nuclear accident is not made to wait endlessly, the Bill stipulates that when an accident happens and is notified, then a commission will be appointed to decide on the compensation and liability. “The victim will be paid in a certain time. The appointment of the commission does not take away the right of the victim to go in appeal to a High Court or the Supreme Court,” the Minister said, adding that this was one of the most important features of the Bill as it will ensure that a Bhopal-like situation does not occur again. The Minister said that another amendment related to the creation of three categories of plants — large nuclear power projects, research reactors (which could be in the private sector or universities) and nuclear fuel cycle facility.

The proposed amendments to the Bill have already been sent to the Lok Sabha (India’s lower house of Parliament) Secretariat and the Bill is likely to be introduced in the House on Saturday or early next week.

Passage of this bill brings American companies one step closer to doing business in India.

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