The government had made it clear that there would be no changes to the Civil Nuclear Liability for Damage Act (2010).
There has been sharp criticism of the government’s contention that United States-based suppliers of nuclear reactors and parts will not be directly liable in case of a nuclear accident, nor can they be sued by Indian nuclear operators unless the contract they sign clearly states it. The clarification of the government’s position was released by the Ministry of External Affairs on Sunday, after it had been shared in a memorandum with U.S. officials.
In it the government had made it clear that there would be no changes to the Civil Nuclear Liability for Damage Act (2010), but that liability for suppliers would apply only if it was written into the contract. The government also stated that Section 46, which relates to victims of an accident being able to sue under ‘tort laws’ does not relate to suppliers at all, and the Parliament debate over the CLND law in 2010 had seen amendments on the issue rejected.
However, Left-party members, who had tried to push for those amendments counter this. “I think that it is illegal for the MEA to contend that the suppliers are not included in ‘tort’ liability, and we will take up all these issues in parliament.” CPI leader D. Raja told The Hindu. Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari also questioned why Indian insurance companies had to bear the brunt of the liability. “The explanation given seems to be in derogation of the law and the will of the people,” he said. Former Chairman of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board Dr. A. Gopalakrishnan also criticised the government’s position saying it “violates the intent and spirit of the CLND,” and accused the Modi government of trying to “facilitate the business interests of the foreign and domestic companies, in utter disregard of the devastating human suffering which is sure to follow a potential severe nuclear accident.”
Interestingly, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, who had attended the early negotiations of the nuclear contact group that hammered out the recent agreement, had argued just the opposite when he was Leader of the Opposition in September 2013. In an article available on the BJP website, he had argued that the supplier must be made liable mandatorily and not as an option. “Any attempt to permit NPCIL to abdicate the right given to an operator, would be compromising… and contrary to the provisions of Ssection 17(b) of the Act,” he had argued at the time. When contacted about the agreement on Sunday conflicting with the BJP’s previous stand, Mr. Jaitley made no comment.
On the issue of tracking nuclear material by the U.S., the MEA spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said that “there would only be IAEA safeguards”, not U.S. safeguards. However, he didn’t reply to the specific question on whether India has agreed for the first to time to share data with the U.S., as The Hindu had reported last week.