The Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill – A Raw Deal for Indians

Those of you who follow the political news keenly must have read about the tabling of the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill (will call it the Nuclear Liability Bill or NLB from now on).

For the uninitiated, here are some key points from the NLB which are the crux of the issue:

  1. Indian government indirectly takes the onus of compensation in case of a mishap and this compensation will be capped at Rs. 500 Crores in the event of a nuclear accident. (This will be the compensation to victims of a nuclear accident)
  2. The compensation will be made through the Nuclear Power Corporation of India i.e. the bill puts the responsibility of paying compensation on the operator and not the supplier or foreign companies building and installing nuclear facilities in India. (think Moral Hazards? )

NLB is said to be a crucial part of the Indo-US Nuclear deal and it is said that without the NLB being cleared, the US firms will not get insurance cover for their projects in India.

What freaks me out the most are some media reports in which the Indian government claims that this bill is necessary to protect the interest of the Indian people.

A print media article dated December 11, 2009 even says that:

Sharing Mr. Sorabjee’s view, senior Supreme Court lawyer and constitutional expert P.P. Rao said: “This [Bill] can be challenged in a court of law as it may not stand judicial scrutiny. It is vulnerable, arbitrary and unfair.” He wondered how the government could legally deprive a victim of fair and just compensation. Any such move would be violative of the right to life.

Pointing out that the main lesson from the Bhopal gas tragedy was that foreign companies engaged in hazardous industries must be made strictly and absolutely liable for any damage caused by their units, Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan said “the proposed Bill, instead, seeks to limit the liability, which is absurd.”

A nuclear disaster (such as Chernobyl (request you to go through all relevant portions of the page)) can have extremely dire ramification and cause massive damage to life and property. The severe radioactivity that engulfs a place after such an accident or even a minor leakage makes large tracts of surrounding area uninhabitable for many years. It destroys all forms of plant and animal life. The radioactivity may cause genetic mutations and lead to many types of cancers, even after many years.

The policies of the current and past governments (irrespective of the party in power), especially on matters of international affairs, has always annoyed me. With reference to the current government I feel that it is the weakest government (ironically elected with strongest majority) to come to power in last two decades.