N-Bill: ‘And’ keeps BJP,Cong apart

Two days after it came to an agreement with the government on the Civil Nuclear Liabilities Bill — drawing criticism of having struck a “deal” with the Congress...

Written by Manoj C G | New Delhi | Published:August 20, 2010 3:04 am

Two days after it came to an agreement with the government on the Civil Nuclear Liabilities Bill — drawing criticism of having struck a “deal” with the Congress — the BJP on Thursday discovered a problematic word in a key clause relating to supplier liability and threatened to reconsider its support.

The fresh trouble is over the insertion of the word ‘and’ between two sub-clauses of Clause 17 of the proposed Bill that deals with the liability of suppliers of nuclear equipment to the operator of the nuclear power plant.

Coming under pressure,the government late in the night decided to amend the contentious section. The BJP alleged breach of Parliament’s trust saying changes were made in the Standing Committee for Science and Technology’s report after its adoption.

Authoritative sources said the draft Bill that will be taken up by the Union Cabinet tomorrow will not include the word “and”.

Clause 17 says that the operator would have a right to recourse against the supplier “where (a) such right is expressly provided for in a contract in writing” and “(b) the nuclear incident has resulted as a consequence of latent or patent defect,supply of sub-standard material,defective equipment or services or from the gross negligence on the part of the supplier of the material,equipment or services”. There is a sub-clause (c) as well saying the supplier would be held liable in case of acts of omission and commission.

The BJP — supported by the Left parties — say that the inclusion of the word ‘and’ would “dilute” and “weaken” the provision as it would make supplier liability possible only if it was expressly mentioned in the commercial contract between the operator and the supplier.

In the absence of the word ‘and’,they claim,the supplier would have been liable for its defective equipment even if such liability was not mentioned in the commercial contract.

The standing committee headed by Congress member T Subbirami Reddy had included the word “and” in a fresh sheet and stapled it in place of Page 30 of the report that was tabled in the Rajya Sabha yesterday.

“17 (a) and 17 (b) were separate clauses during our discussions. ‘And’ was inserted later. If the government is ready to remove this word ‘and’,then things can move forward,otherwise it will not,” Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj said. BJP leader Arun Jaitley took up the issue with Science and Technology Minister Prithviraj Chavan.

The Left also raised the same concern,with Prakash Karat saying that the government had tried to sneak in a favour for US suppliers. “The original Bill was much better. They have made it worse with the inclusion of the notorious,though a simple,word ‘and’. If ‘and’ is deleted,problem is solved.”

Reddy conceded that the report sent to him late night on August 17 by the Rajya Sabha Secretariat didn’t have the word ‘and’,but says it was a mistake committed by the Secretariat officials. “The committee at no point of time agreed to drop the word ‘and’. In fact,there was also mistake on Page 30 with the word ‘defective’ missing in Section 17 (B). I brought it to the notice of the Secretariat officials,after which the new Page 30 was stapled,” he said.

Chavan said the government was only aware of the report as tabled in the House. “We do not know what happened during the proceedings.”

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