The changes coming against the backdrop of light sentencing in the Bhopal gas tragedy verdict have already come under attack from political parties including the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Left parties which have said it was being done under American pressure.
The government intention is believed to have been conveyed during a meeting of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science and Technology on Tuesday by the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE). The changes appear to have even caught off guard the Ministry of External Affairs, which plays a key role in forging cooperation with the US and other nations for the government.
Highly placed sources in the MEA said Section 17(b) was part of the Bill at least till last week and they were not aware if changes were being mooted by the DAE. However, the sources maintained that the government would not take away the liability of the supplier under contractual obligation and that the interests of the common man would be protected. This, they claimed, would be ensured in the context of the Bhopal court verdict that has highlighted the lacunae in Indian laws in dealing with such industrial disasters and to provide adequate compensation for the victims.
There was no official word from the government on the changes except a terse press release from the DAE which referred to news reports on deletions and modifications in the Bill. It merely said the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill, 2010 was under consideration by a Parliamentary Committee, which is "examining all aspects".
"The Government's role is limited and will continue to be restricted to providing inputs in response to queries put to it by the Committee," the release said. CWC member Satyavrat Chaturvedi blamed the then Madhya Pradesh government for the episode and said the central government could not be held responsible.
"The incident took place in Bhopal. The arrest was made by the state government and bail was given to Anderson there the same day. He was sent to Delhi by a state government plane and from there he went to America. Now, where do we see the role of the central government? In this we only see the role of the state government," he said.