Wednesday, July 21, 2010

‘Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill 2010’

Trading Indian People’s Life for Multinationals’ Profit

--Statement by Janpaksh

Once again showing its loyalty to the multinationals and imperialist masters the Congress led UPA government is all set to bring the ’Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill 2010’ in the coming monsoon session of the parliament. The Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill, 2010 was introduced in the Lok Sabha on May 7, 2010 which also happened to be the last working day of the Budget session. But due to vociferous opposition it was referred to the parliamentary Standing Committee on Science and Technology for recommendation.

Though the avowed purpose of this bill is to … define the “liability”, arising out of any nuclear accident, of an individual “operator” – independent of (and unaffiliated with) the Government of India.” But even a cursory reading reveals it’s brazenly pro-capitalist anti people bias.

The main features of the Bill are:

  • It defines nuclear incidents and nuclear damage, nuclear fuel, material and nuclear installations, and also operators of nuclear installations.

  • It lays down who will be liable for nuclear damage, and the financial limit of the liability for a nuclear incident.

  • It creates authorities who will assess claims and distribute compensation in cases of nuclear damage. It also specifies who can claim compensation for nuclear damage, and how compensation can be claimed and distributed.

  • It specifies penalties for not complying with the provisions of the Bill, or any directions issued under it.

[Source: PRS Legislative Research (PRS) website]

This government has been propagating that the Nuclear Liability bill would kick-start the process of construction of nuclear reactors thus solving the much needed energy requirement of the “growing India”. The protagonist of Nuclear energy needs to be asked one question, if nuclear energy is so efficient then why the USA for more than three decades has not installed new nuclear power reactors!

Is the nuclear energy the panacea for India’s power problem? The statistics reveals a different picture. As of now, the electricity production from nuclear energy stands at 4,120 MW, which is a little less than 3% of the total installed capacity of power plants. Even if we are to add a 100,000 MW in the next 10 years, as the Ministry of Power is assumes, what is the best-case scenario for nuclear power? According a study conducted by the Planning Commission’s entitled Integrated Energy Policy, 2006, it assumes that taking the most optimistic scenario, the electricity production from nuclear plants would be 15,000 MW by 2015 and 29,000 MW by 2021. This would be about 7% of total energy produced. That too when this highly optimistic figure is met!

What would be the cost of this? A green field nuclear plant costs about $4 billion. The technologies would have to be imported from US that too with several strings attached and a typical plant takes somewhere between 5 to 6 years, so claiming that the nuclear energy is the only viable and alternative left for Indian, sounds hollow.

The bill real intention is giving a free hand to the private companies and the international nuclear cartel to play with the life of the masses while reaping millions of dollars as mega-profits without any sting attached as demanded by the capitalist pressure group FICCI in its June 2009 Report .

The only raison d’être of private players pushing for this bill is their lust for profit maximization while being free from all liabilities. The American nuclear cartel led by GE and Westinghouse, with open support of the US government has been forcing India to adopt a legislation that would absolve them of all legal and financial liability in case of event arising out of a nuclear accident. This is a clear pointer to the kind of safety measures and standards these companies would adopt while constructing and maintaining the nuclear power plants in this country.

Deliberately, the liability to be paid by the nuclear operators (the private capitalist both multinational and Indian) has been kept abysmally low, to placate the interest of the ‘operators’.

In fact, the Clause 6 (2), states: The liability of an operator for each nuclear incident shall be rupees five hundred crores. The total liability for a nuclear incident has been kept as 300 million Special Drawing Rights (Approximately Rs 2100 crore at current exchange rates) of this the total liability of the operator would be a paltry sum Rs 500 crore or about $110 million. With the further rider, to lower it down to, even paltrier Rs. 100 crore.

If the liability exceeds Rs 500 crore, the central government shall be liable for the amount exceeding Rs 500 crore (up to SDR 300 million). If damage is caused in a nuclear installation owned by the central government, the government will be solely liable.

This means that in case of any mishap the real culprits would be only liable to damage in tune of Rs. 500 crore while the Indian people would be paying the rest of the compensation to the overall limit of 300 million SDR.

First, $110 million cap for the operator, or even higher $450 million total cap, would not cover even one-tenth of one paisa per rupee of damage in a worst case accident.

Further this bill violates the ‘Polluter Pays’ principle and the ‘Precautionary Principle’. In words of the former Attorney General of India, Soli Sorabjee, ‘the Right to Life as enshrined in Article 21 of the Constitution of India’. The bill also goes against significant Supreme Court judgments which have ruled that hazardous and dangerous industries owe an ‘absolute and non-delegable’ duty to the community to ensure safety.

A comparative analysis of similar laws in US and Canada revels the callous attitude of the multinationals and imperialist powers toward the life and property of Indians.

In the US any indemnity to be given in case of nuclear accident is governed by The Price-Anderson Nuclear Industries Indemnity Act (commonly called the Price-Anderson Act), in the event of an accident, the first $375 million is paid by the insurer(s) of the plant. It is mandatory to insure the plant. Beyond that, up to US$ 10 billion is paid out of a fund jointly contributed by the “operators” as mandated by the Price-Anderson Nuclear Industries Indemnity Act. Beyond that, the Federal Government pays.

The Canadian government has introduced a draft legislation on April 16th 2010 known as Bill C-15 which proposes to increase a nuclear plant operator’s liability to Rs 3,000 crores at current conversion rate (which is not only six times the cap of Rs 500 crores contained in the Civil Liability for nuclear damage bill 2010, but it also exceeds the “maximum amount of liability” of about Rs 2,300 crores set out in the bill.) The draft legislation further proposes to increase the civil nuclear liability cap from the existing $75 million to $650 million. The bill further proposes to increase the operator’s financial security of at least $650 million that they have to maintain.

Contrast this with the Civil Liability bills that Indian Government has prepared and the imperialist view of “Indians being an expendable commodity” appears to be true.

There must not be any overall "cap" on the quantum of compensation to potential victims. That is too unjust and inhumane. It has to relate to the actual damages caused. The overall “cap” of 300 million SDR, which works out to about 460 million US$, is even lower than the compensation amount of US$ 470 million ratified by the Indian Supreme Court to the victims of Bhopal Gas Disaster way back in 1989.

This reveals the extent that the Indian ruling class has mortgaged the interest of the common people to the international bourgeoisies and its Indian counterpart the comprador bourgeoisies, turning the country to a neo-colony of the imperialism.

The government of India has to answer the pertinent question: What was the need for this government that it is in such a rush to pass a bill that only favours the international capitalists and imperialists while gratuitously burdening the people of a country. A country where 836 millions (77 per cent of total population) live on Rs. 20 a day or less.

The bill in its current form is an open invitation to disaster giving a free hand to the multinational companies at the expense of the life of common masses, so they reap in maximum profit without any concern for the safety of the people. Another Bhopal is in offing.

This bill has to be opposed, it is high time that the progressive and Communist Revolutionary forces of the country unite and chalk out a clear cut agenda of action to defeat this bill and also the vicious interest of the capitalists and their lackeys. Only a united front of all the radical forces of this country in consonance with the international progressive movement can thwart this nefarious act of the international capital.


1 crore = ten million (10000000)


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