Remove the cap on nuclear liability: Sukla Sen

The nuclear liability debate in India is far from settled. The US and India are reported to have formed Joint Working Group recently. Comprising of legal experts and officials from the DAE, this JWG will explore ways for the US companies to avoid nuclear liability. Similar concerns for indemnifying nuclear suppliers has been raised by Russia, France and domestic industrial houses.

Sukla Sen is a prominent activist who had presented the CNDP‘s submission before the Standing Committee of the Indian parliament in the course of the discussions on Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill, 2010. interviewed him for further clarity on the nuclear liability issue.


Why are the nuclear supplier companies still adamant on removing
liability provision altogether when it is already watered down

Despite all glib talks about safety of nuclear power plants, accidents by definition can never be ruled out. And in case of NPPs accidents could be catastrophic. The suppliers very well know that. So they are extremely wary of accepting any liability in case of accidents.

The dogged reluctance of the suppliers to accept any liability whatever in case of accidents only shows up the hollowness of the assurances of safety dished out by the Government of India and the nuclear establishment.

Apart from “right of recourse” provision, what are the other points of contention?

The maximum cap on liability for the operator (in case of nuclear reactors having thermal power equal to or above 10 MW), and thereby also for the suppliers, is fixed at Rs 1,500 crore. That’s too paltry as compared to monetary value of the potential damages caused by a catastrophic accident like Fukushima or Chernobyl.

What is the role of actual and potential suppliers in India domestically?

Potential Indian sub-suppliers are also dead against any liability being passed on to the suppliers as they in turn would pass this on to the sub-suppliers. So in this regard their interests converge with that of the suppliers.

Recently adopted Nuclear Liability Rules capped the “product liability period” to 5 years. Eminent Jurist Soli Sorabjee recently has called them constitutionally invalid. What do you think are the legal/political windows available to challenge the Rules.

A “Rule” is a subordinate legislation to the corresponding “Act”. Hence the “Rule” must be in tandem with the “Act“.

Mr. Sorabjee has explained while the “Rule” lays down time limit, 5 years for all practical purpose, for “right of recourse”, there is no such limit in the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act 2010. Hence the “Rule” is ultra vires of the Act and thereby invalid.

To my knowledge the Parliament is to ratify the Rule, which is still pending. So there is a slim probability that this aspect will be duly taken note of and amended. But if eventually that does not happen then the regular legal recourse should be open.

India’s Nuclear Liability Act is in contradiction with the Convention of Supplementary Compensation(CSC), in case of a real accident, which would prevail?

As regards this Mr. Soli Sorabjee, a former Attorney General of India and a renowned jurist, has clearly opined, in response to queries made by the Greenpeace, that in case of conflict between the provisions of the CSC and the Act, the “National law viz. the Nuclear Liability Act would prevail over the CSC and have overriding effect even if India ratifies the CSC”.

What modifications would you like to see in India’s nuclear liability regime for best protection of the potential victims?

The single most important change that is called for is the removal of the cap on liability.

And, the Rule must be in tandem with the Act.


Nuclear liability debate has evoked the memories of Bhopal accident, where victims are still struggling for compensation.



Join discussion: leave a comment