Updated: June 24, 2014 8:34:31 am
The ratification of the Additional Protocol (AP) to grant the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) greater access to India’s civil nuclear programme is a signal from the NDA government that it is serious about implementing the Indo-US nuclear deal. The AP was part of India’s commitment under the civil nuclear initiative with the US that ended New Delhi’s prolonged nuclear isolation and allowed it to regain access to civil nuclear technology, without giving up its weapons programme. The IAEA had approved an India-specific AP in 2009, after signing a pact with Delhi in 2008, which cleared the path for the Nuclear Suppliers Group’s India-specific waiver.
After the initial effort made towards lifting the global technological blockade on India’s nuclear sector, the UPA visibly lost the momentum in its second term, allowing itself to be cornered into passing a bad nuclear liability law. The Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act, 2010, hinders the entry of foreign nuclear suppliers, as the law’s right to recourse clause in case of a nuclear accident places liability on the supplier. Earlier this year, former PM Manmohan Singh had to return from Moscow without an agreement on units 3 and 4 of the Kudankulam plant. The Russians have since communicated their “in principle” nod to the law, paving the way for a contract on Kudankulam 3 and 4. Problems persist, however, with the US and France, whose vendors are held back by the liability law, as are Indian private sector companies.
The law is inconsistent with the Convention for Supplementary Compensation that India signed in 2010. Global regulations fix liability solely on the operator and the global nuclear industry was revived with state assurances of bearing liability. The UPA had tried to finesse the law by writing rules of implementation, making it the operator’s call to exercise the right to recourse, and only if it was written into the contract. In its current form, the law may see suppliers apply for large insurance covers, which could make nuclear energy too expensive. The BJP, partly responsible for this state of affairs in opposition, has now signalled its willingness to push ahead. But it must accept that this egregious law needs to be amended first.
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