In a significant message to the business lobby in Washington, the Union Cabinet on Thursday gave its nod to the Civil Nuclear Liability Bill.
The move will encourage the nuclear power plant manufacturing companies, which have been eyeing the Rs 60,000-crore plus market in India, for the next 5-10 years. According to sources, the government will fix the civil liability at approximately Rs 2,400 crore for the manufacturers.
However, the civil society in India will strongly protest the Bill if the liability clause is not stringent enough.
The bill is expected to be tabled in Parliament's Winter Session by the Ministry of Atomic Energy.
All over the world, commercial nuclear power reactors have given rise to concerns about the possible damage that can be caused by a severe nuclear accident. The Chernobyl disaster, the Three Mile Island accident in 1979 and incidents like the Bhopal gas tragedy have raised the issue of liability.
While the manufacturers argue that the liability can't be impractically high, anti-nuclear power activists are more concerned about the criminal liability in the Bill.
According to social activist and lawyer Gopal Krishna, "If the Cabinet has fixed the liability at approximately Rs 2,400 crore, it is too meager an amount and cannot be accepted by the people of India. Our prime concern is criminal liability."
Once the Bill is passed by the Parliament, India will be in position to join the international convention on nuclear power.
However, the process will take its own time because the Bill is likely to go to a parliamentary standing committee for a detailed scrutiny.
Companies like General Electric, Areva, Westinghouse, and Rosatom Corp have been lobbying in New Delhi since many years.
The Nuclear Power Corporation of India is the nodal agency that has been talking to foreign manufacturers of power plants. Reliance, Tata Power and GMR have also shown interest in undertaking joint ventures with the NPCIL.