The Rs 500 crore cap in the event of an accident, proposed in the controversial nuclear liability bill, could be raised as part of government's efforts to address concerns of the opposition over the issue. Indications to this effect were given by government officials at a meeting of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science and Technology and Environment on Tuesady.
Top officials of the Department of Atomic Energy and Nuclear Power Corporation of India, Limited, made detailed presentations to the committee members on various aspects ofthe bill. A round of "intense discussion" followed the presentation, during which the members raised concerns over the Rs 500 crore cap on compensation, which they found to be "very low", particularly in the backdrop of the Bhopal gas tragedy. A section of the panel also wanted a clear mention in the bill that private participation would not be allowed in the nuclear power sector as "this could lead to more Andersons in the country." The reference was to Warren Anderson, the Chairman and CEO of Union Carbide when the Bhopal Gas tragedy took place in December 1984. Anderson left the country in its aftermath and could not be tried in court.
Questions were also raised on the clauses that the liability would cease to be on the operator of the nuclear power plant in case on a terror attack or natural disaster. A section of the members cited India's "belligerent neighbours like China and Pakistan" while highlighting this point. Officials said a "very general discussion" took place during Tuesday's meeting. "It was an appraisal exercise and clause-by-clause discussions would take place on June 15-16,"they said. A large section of the members wanted the suppliers of nuclear equipment to share the liability in case of a nuclearaccident.
Official sources said that it was the first meeting of the standing committee on the issue and changes in the bill, if any, would emerge only in the course of future meetings. "It is a long drawn process. A few more meetings will take place and the bill will evolve in these interactions. Parliament is supreme and we will take care of the interests of the country," an official said. Officials explained to the members the reasoning for specifying the "cap" of liability, arguing that it was necessary for the operating company to take insurance cover. The government has already expressed willingness to make changes in the bill if the Committee suggests.