Govt relents on ‘intent’ in N-bill

Posted: August 25, 2010 in India

After weeks of debate, the Government has finally signaled it is ready to remove the contentious word ‘intent’ from sub-clauses 17 B and C of the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill 2010 – a word that the Opposition particularly the BJP and Left Front, had taken strong exception to and wanted removed.

Both the BJP and the Left Front had sought changes to the draft, but the BJP’s support is considered politically more critical than the Left’s as, barring the controversial clause, it has supported all other amendments to the Bill and has the requisite numbers in the Lok Sabha to help pass it.

The news of the compromise came just hours before the Nuclear Liability bill was tabled for discussion and passing in Parliament.
The Union Cabinet has cleared 18 amendments on August 20 based on the recommendations of a Parliamentary Standing Committee, including the one which deals with a clause on liability of a supplier in the event of a nuclear accident.

The controversial amendment to Clause 17 (B) makes it clear that an operator of a nuclear plant can seek damages only if an accident has occurred due to the ‘intent’ of the supplier or its employees. Crying foul over the issue, the BJP wants the government to refer the amended clause back to the Parliamentary Standing Committee and has made it clear that it would be very difficult to support the bill unless the government relents and brings back the original proposed legislation.

However Government sources have told , that it has decided to remove the contentious word ‘intent’ and a newly amended clause sans the word will be reworked in the final draft of the Bill. The new change has been sent to the Lok Sabha Speaker’s office, and also placed before Minister of State for Science and Technology Prithviraj Chavan.

Discussions will take place on the Bill in Parliament later in the day and any final amendments worked into the draft in the House itself.
Earlier on Monday, Chavan had met Rajya Sabha Leader of Opposition Arun Jaitley and said the Central Government has an open mind on the changes and will be ready to accept any concrete suggestions, adding that Government is prepared to discuss any formulation on Clause 17 (B).

Following the correction, the UPA government will find it far easier to push the Bill through in the House, as the principal complaint put forth by opponents the BJP has been addressed and resolved and together with the BJP the UPA easily has the numbers to get the Bill passed. The question of Left Front support will be redundant if the BJP decides to support the Government on the Bill, and sources say the UPA is confident that the Bill is home and dry and going to be a reality soon.

But the moot question now is, whether the BJP will be satisfied or of they have any other substantive suggestions for change. Of 18 amendments suggested, the BJP had cleared 17, with just one sitting point. Speaking to TIMES NOW yesterday, Chavan had said nearly 70% of nuclear investment will be made by firms that are Indian or largely Indian. He also hinted that there had been some ‘concerns’ expressed by suppliers,and that the Bhopal issue has been kept in mind while sorting out the matter.

Chavan also held discussions with CPI(M)Politburo member Sitaram Yechury but the Left remained non-committal till they read the fine print. “The Minister appeared willing to consider our points of view, especially those relating to the suppliers’ liability. But we have to see the fine print of the proposed legislation,” Yechury told PTI after the meeting.

He quoted Chavan as saying that the government would consider relevant amendments moved by Left parties in the course of discussion on the bill to be tabled in Parliament tomorrow. BJP also chose to wait and watch the government’s moves in Parliament on the issue and then take a call.

“We (BJP) have suggested the formulation on civil nuclear Bill in the meeting between Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley and Chavan. We will wait for a formulation from the government, see what they have to say and await the outcome in Parliament,” BJP spokesman Rajiv Pratap Rudy said.

UPA constituent NCP said the bill should be passed by taking the opposition parties into confidence.

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