|[American-pushed liability bill only values Indian lives at 1/23rd value of American lives.]|
The controversial bill that provides for payment of compensation in the event of a nuclear accident was introduced in the Lok Sabha on Friday amid protests and walkout by opposition NDA and Left parties which termed it as “illegal” and “unconstitutional”.
The Civil Nuclear Liability Bill, was moved by Minister of State Prithviraj Chavan after a clash between ruling and Opposition members. Its passage is key to operationalisation of the Indo-US nuclear deal.
The bill provides for the maximum liability of Rs 500 crore on the part of the operator in the case of a nuclear accident, a provision that is the main cause of opposition by the NDA and Left parties.
As Chavan sought permission to introduce the bill, CPI(M) members Basudeb Acharia and Ramchandra Dome, BJP leaders M M Joshi and Yashwant Sinha and CPI leader Gurudas Dasgupta said the proposed legislation would violate Article 21 of the Constitution, a fundamental right that guarantees right to life.
They said the bill also compromises the right of victims to approach courts for enhanced compensation.
Amid cries of “shame, shame” from BJP members, Sinha alleged that the proposed legislation was being introduced under the US pressure.
Leader of Opposition Sushma Swaraj said her party had conveyed to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that the bill should be amended but the government was “adamant” on introducing it in the present form.
Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, along with Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal, argued that the members could not speak on the merits of the bill at the introduction stage and could only talk about legislative competence of the House on taking up the proposed legislation.
Significantly, Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav and RJD leader Lalu Prasad, who had opposed the bill in March when the first attempt was made to introduce it, this time appeared to be siding with the government.
Yadav, who along with Prasad met Mukherjee on Thursday evening, was even seen apparently trying to convince Acharia about the bill.
Mukherjee, while objecting to the opposition members’ attempt to discuss merits of the bill, said their behaviour was “obnoxious” and amounts to “Parliamentary obstruction”.
To express their opposition to the bill, members of NDA and Left parties walked out of the House.
Afterwards, the bill was introduced.
This is “illegal”, “unconstitutional” and “anti-people”, said Acharia earlier while opposing introduction of the bill during which members of Congress repeatedly clashed with those from Left and NDA.
He said the bill violates the right to life of Indians and ignores a Supreme Court judgement which holds that the polluter will have to pay the principal amount of compensation.
The proposed legislation will also compromise the right of a victim to approach the courts for “adequate compensation” because the compensation has been “capped”.
Joshi also said the bill would violate Article 21 and go against the SC ruling on liability on the polluter besides violating the environmental laws.
He said till now, a victim had a right to “unlimited liability” but the proposed law would put a cap on compensation.
“It is a crime that someone else commits an offence and we pay for it,” the BJP leader said.
Dasgupta also said the proposed legislation contradicts the SC judgement.
Sinha said the bill was not in tune with similar legislations across the world. In this context, he said that in the US, there is a provision for compensation to the tune of Rs 60,000 crore, 23 times higher than Rs 2,600 crore as proposed in the new bill.
Amid chants of “shame, shame” by his party colleagues, the BJP leader suggested that the bill was being brought under the US pressure and asked, “Is the life of Indians so cheap that an Indian will get 1/23rd of the amount as compensation as compared to an American?”