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Modi-Obama nuclear deal a "shameful capitulation" to MNCs: Indian taxpayers to pay for N-disaster

EAS Sarma
By Our Representative
Even before the ink could dry on the Modi-Obama nuclear deal, anti-nuclear campaigners have taken strong exception to what they consider as “shameful capitulation” to US MNCs like Westinghouse and General Electrical (GE), which have lined up to supply key technology to the proposed plants in India at Mithi Vidri in Gujarat and Kovvada, Andhra Pradesh. Senior activist Kumar Sundaram and former power secretary, Government of India, Dr EAS Sarma have accused the Modi government for agreeing to allow taxpayers’ money to be spent as insurance cover in case of a nuclear disaster.
Pointing out that the US pressured India into agreeing to this in order to avoid the “embarrassment” the MNC, Union Carbide, faced following the Bhopal gas tragedy Sundaram in a strongly-worded and informative commentary in http://www.dianuke.org/ said, while the nuclear deal is being “touted as a big breakthrough” by the Government of India, the move is actually “a capitulation”, as even the weak nuclear liability law, providing for poor compensation in case of a disaster, is being diluted.
“The Act provides for a ‘right of recourse’ to the operator, the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL), in case of a nuclear accident, for it to recover part of the liability from the foreign and domestic suppliers,” Sundaram, who is with the of the Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace (CNDP), said, adding, the Obama administration has been the “most vociferous in asking for a dilution of the suppliers’ liability clause, to escape a Bhopal-like situation.”
While former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, during his last visit to the US, presented his government’s re-interpretation of the law, providing a choice to the operator not to sue the supplier, and promised that India would chose not to use the legal option,” Sundaram said, the Modi government has decided to take step further.
With the US government insisting on a clean exemption, Sundaram said, “The current push for looking for an Indian state-owned insurance cover is an outcome of persistent American pressure. The Indian government started a process of reconsideration by setting up an India-US joint committee to find a way out of the ‘liability impasse’ and the US side suggested an ‘insurance-type’ approach.”
“Ironically,” said the activist, “The insurance route to subvert the liability law is being resorted to by the BJP, which vehemently opposed moves to dilute the liability law while in opposition. The BJP in fact was opposed to the Act itself in 2010 as the suppliers’ liability is already very meagre. The BJP was earlier opposed to both the limiting of the liability as well as channeling it to the Indian taxpayer.”
He recalls, “The BJP then alleged that the bill was being brought under US pressure mainly to keep the two American multinationals – Westinghouse and General Electric – from paying any liability and making the Indian government liable to pay in case of an accident.” Senior BJP leader Yashwant Sinha then had said, “The life of an Indian is only worth a dime compared to the life of an American.”
“However,” pointed out the activist, “Now the government and the nuclear establishment seem worried about the concerns of suppliers and of the Indian law being a departure from the international convention channeling all liability to the operator.”
This happened despite the fact that the law made the supplier culpability “dependent on an explicit mention of the liability provision in the bilateral contract between the supplier and the operator.” In addition, the “Indian government limited the product liability period to just 5 years under the Nuclear Liability Rules of 2011 which were designed to guide the implementation of 2010 Act.”
Asks Sundaram, “If the Modi government has so much faith in the forces of the market, why is a publicly-owned Indian insurance company being made to secure financial protection for foreign as well as domestic nuclear corporations? When private insurance companies have been pushing for reforms, encouragement and greater slice of the market, why don’t they come forward and provide insurance for the big players of the nuclear industry?”
Sundaram’s hard-hitting commentary follows ex-power secretary EAS Sarma’s letter to Union finance minister Arun Jaitley, accused the Government of India of “considering a blend of sovereign guarantee, insurance cover provided by PSU insurance companies and even bonds issued by PSU banks,” thereby “prima facie” violating “the intent of liability law“, and also “the established polluter-should-pay principle stipulated by Hon’ble Supreme Court in several cases.”
According to the ex-bureaucrat, “The hesitation on the part of the US MNCs to take on the liability arising on account of an accident attributable to reactor design deficiencies raises serious doubts over the safety features of the reactors they will supply. We should keep in view that the Fukushima reactors were supplied by US MNCs and India should be circumspect in accepting terms that run counter to its own self interest and well being of its people.”

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