The Left parties Tuesday urged MPs to reject the civil nuclear liability bill, saying it amounted to giving subsidies to US suppliers of proposed nuclear plants while disregarding the interests of the Indian people.
The government was to introduce the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damages Bill, which seeks to cap the liability of nuclear plant operators and equipment suppliers in case of an accident, in the Lok Sabha Monday but withdrew it at the eleventh hour.
The Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) and three other Left parties said in a joint statement that the legislation 'is being pushed by the government because of pressure from the US equipment suppliers and investors put through the US administration at the highest levels'.
'The US has made a precondition that India must put a cap on liability of the nuclear operators and virtually remove all liabilities of the equipment suppliers before it delivers on its promises in the India-US Nuclear Deal.
'That is why the Fuel Reprocessing Consent, claimed to be a done deal by the proponents of the nuclear deal, has yet to be agreed to by the US. Neither have the dual use technology restrictions been removed as Prime Minister (Manmohan Singh) had claimed before parliament.'
The Left statement added that 'the nuclear liability regime being proposed... is nothing but a huge hidden subsidy to the US equipment suppliers. In order to promote private nuclear power plants and favour US equipment suppliers, the government is willing to sacrifice the interests of the Indian people'.
'We hope you (MPs) will take a stand against this bill which compromises the vital interests of the Indian people regarding their safety and security,' said the statement signed by CPI-M's Prakash Karat and leaders of the Communist Party of India, Forward Bloc and Revolutionary Socialist Party.
The statement pointed out that neither Russian nor French nuclear equipment suppliers had raised the issue of capping or limiting nuclear liability.
'It is an entirely US concern and being driven by the interests of US suppliers and investors. If this is accepted, this will be yet another case of the central government capitulating to the US.
'The government has already proposed to buy 10,000 MW of nuclear reactors from private US suppliers like GE, Westinghouse and others without going through open tendering and competitive bidding mandated under the present Electricity Act. This is being done as government to government contracts, precluding public scrutiny of the terms of these contracts.
'The government is also unwilling to tell the people either the cost of those reactors or the cost of electricity to be produced from such imported reactors.'
Under the bill, the financial liability for a nuclear accident will be capped at only 300 million SDRs (Rs.2,142.85 crore), the statement said. Beyond this, the affected people will not get any compensation for either loss of life, health damages or damages to property and environment.
The liability of the Indian operator of nuclear plants will be limited to only to Rs.500 crore. The central government can decrease the amount of liability to a minimum of Rs.100 crore.
The difference between the two - Rs.2,142.85 and Rs.500 crore, of about Rs.1,642 crore - is the government's share of the liability.
'There is no legal liability of the foreign reactor supplier even if it supplies faulty and substandard equipment.'
The statement said the Bhopal settlement of $470 million (Rs.2,152 crore) reached between the central government and Union Carbide Corp following the 1984 gas disaster and accepted by the Supreme Court had proved to be totally inadequate.
'It is completely unconscionable of the government to suggest that all nuclear accidents, which have the potential of being much larger than the Bhopal tragedy, be capped at a figure that has already been shown to be a gross underestimate.'