In August 2010, the Indian government approved the Civil Liability for
Damages Act – the aim of which is to provide for prompt payment to victims of any nuclear accident that takes place within the country.
The Act has been hailed as setting a new benchmark in the nuclear liability principle by allowing the 'right to recourse' of the operator against the supplier in Section 17. This means that if a nuclear accident occurs due to the fault of the supplier or their employee, they can be held liable for it.
In the light of several protests from the nuclear suppliers, the Government of India has issued certain rules which, subordinate to the act, seek to limit the amount and the time period for the liability of the supplier in contravention with the very spirit of the Act, and is ultra vires of Section 17. The consequence of this would be that the operator would remain liable for the damages caused and would have limited recourse to the supplier even if the fault is by an act of the supplier. In India, the operator being the NPCIL and a public company, the government and the people would essentially be mostly liable for any consequence of the suppliers act.
In a country that has seen the plight caused by industrial disasters, and in an industry where the consequences of even minor accidents are disastrous, dilution of the liability principle which was embodied in the Act would come at the cost of hundreds or thousands of lives affected by the fallout and who will potentially face a great challenge in attaining compensation. All possible safeguards must be taken to ensure that in the process of development the people most greatly affected are not left in the lurch.
The Greanpeace Organisation along with National Law School is petitioning to the Law Minister Mr. Salman Khurshid to take up this issue and act against the dilution of the Nuclear Liability Act. Make your voice heard by signing and circulating the petition.
We find that the Rules, subordinate to the Act, do not conform to the spirit of the Act.
Under Section 6 (1) and 6 (2), the Act laid down provisions to remove strict caps on compensation and time limits for these. Section 17 of the Act made express provisions to include nuclear suppliers into the chain of accountability in the event of a nuclear accident. The Rules undo these provisions, best demonstrated by Rule 24.
Rule 24 takes up the issue of the right of recourse contained in Section 17 of the Act. Sub-section (b) of Section 17 allows operators recourse, i.e. to claim damages from suppliers in the event of a nuclear accident, owing to the fault of a supplier. Rule 24 withdraws from this position of the Act. It stipulates limits, both with regard to the amount for which suppliers can be held liable by way of recourse, as well as the number of years for which such liability can be imposed. By diluting the liability of suppliers in this manner, the rule provides a subsidy to suppliers in case of an accident. A subsidy offered at the potential cost of the lives of thousands of Indians.
Rule 24 caters to nuclear suppliers, going against strong public policy arguments to the contrary as well as the opinion of the majority of Parliament expressed in 2010. India, thus far, had set a new standard for nuclear liability, and the Rules lower this standard.
As students and future practitioners of the law, we support a more just and valid set of Rules in accordance with the intent of the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damages Act
Nuclear accidents are a reality in our world, and could be a reality in India’s future. The scale of the damage of such a catastrophe is unthinkable and therefore requires robust legislation, in favour of the people that might be affected, rather than foreign vested interests.
Therefore, we respectfully urge you to review these rules and to make your valuable suggestions to amend the Rules, so as to stop the dilution of India’s Civil Liability for Nuclear Damages Act.