15-Dec-2009

Nuclear Liability Bill

Soli J. Sorabjee warns against a new bill that is being planned to appease foreign companies who want to get into the Nuclear power generation sector in India:
It is claimed that foreign companies are reluctant to invest in India as they do not want to run the risk of having to compensate without a cap for a nuclear accident on account of imposition of absolute liability. It is understood that the government to appease the foreign investors proposes to introduce a Civil Nuclear Liability Bill whereby inter alia the compensation payable in case of a nuclear accident is capped at $450 million.

In effect, this means that in case the actual damage and the cost of remedying environmental degradation exceeds the proposed ridiculously low cap of $450 million or any other sum, the government would have to bear the remaining burden. This would be directly contrary to the Supreme Court’s ruling that it is not the role of the government to meet the costs involved. The effect of a cap in reality would be to shift the financial burden of the consequences of the accident to the taxpayer. According to the Polluter Pays Principle that has been embedded in our jurisprudence, the liability and responsibility for compensating the victims of accident and remedying the environmental damage caused is that of the offending industry alone. No part of the liability can be limited nor passed on to the government.

There can be two views about the advantages or disadvantages of foreign investment in India in the nuclear energy sector. But there can be only one view: health well-being and protection of our people are paramount and must override dollar considerations. Foreign multinationals are not solicitors of the fundamental rights of our people. The Bhopal Gas case is a burning reminder.

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