Obama hopes for speedy passage of Nuclear Liability Bill

By Manish Chand, IANS,

Washington : Even as the civil nuclear liability bill remains mired in political crossfire in India, US President Barack Obama has expressed hope that the contentious legislation will be concluded “as expeditiously” as possible.

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“The president (Obama) did refer to the pending Civil Nuclear Liability Bill and expressed the hope that this could be concluded as expeditiously as possible,” India’s Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao said here Monday.

Rao was briefing journalists on the 50-minute talks between Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and US President Barack Obama at Blair House, the presidential guest house Sunday.

Manmohan Singh assured Obama that the legislation, the target of hostility from opposition parties in India, was going through the democratic processes.

Taking stock of the progress in implementing the landmark 2008 India-US civil nuclear deal, Manmohan Singh and Obama “expressed their happiness” at the finalization of an agreement on arrangements and procedures for reprocessing the US-origin spent fuel.

The government had to defer the introduction of the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill in the parliament March 15 due to unrelenting opposition from some political parties.

The bill seeks to limit the liability of a nuclear power plant operator at Rs.500 crore ($100 million) in case of an accident, sparking criticism that the government was putting a low price tag on human lives.

Critics have also objected to what is seen as the government’s design to exempt suppliers of nuclear equipment by holding the operator exclusively liable in case of a nuclear accident.

The government has indicated its readiness to make some modifications in the legislation to appease the critics. The bill is now expected to be introduced in parliament in the second part of the budget session starting Thursday.

The passage of the civil nuclear liability legislation is among the last two remaining steps required to implement the nuclear deal. With a reprocessing pact out of the way, India is required to enact the liability legislation and give non-proliferation assurance to US nuclear companies.

India will have to issue a “Declaration” or “Assurances” required by the US under the Code of Federal Regulations Part 810 (pronounced Part Eight Ten) to give licences to American companies to work in India.

Under the regulation 810, the recipient country has to undertake that it would not to explode a nuclear device, unless exempted, and not use the material received for military purposes.