We have open mind on nuclear bill, says Manmohan

March 31st, 2010 - 11:44 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan Singh New Delhi, March 31 (IANS) With the political deadlock over the civil nuclear liability bill continuing, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Wednesday offered to discuss “deficiencies, if any” with the opposition and said his government has “an open mind” on the legislation.
“We have an open mind on Nuclear Liability Bill. If there are any deficiencies, we can discuss them,” Manmohan Singh told reporters on the sidelines of a function.

The prime minister suggested that the bill could be sent to the Standing Committee which could resolve all differences. The Left parties and the BJP have fiercely opposed the bill on the grounds that it only provides for Rs.500 crore liability for the operator and exempts suppliers of nuclear equipment from any compensation.

The government could not table the bill in the Lok Sabha in the first phase of the budget session due to resistance from the opposition parties.

Manmohan Singh’s comments on the nuclear bill, a key step India is required to complete before implementing the nuclear deal, comes days ahead of his visit to Washington April 12 for attending a nuclear summit.

The government will make another effort to muster political consensus over the contentious civil nuclear liability legislation before the second phase of the budget session.

With the political impasse over the bill still persisting, the government has indicated that it is amenable to suggestions on changing the language of the draft to accommodate the concerns of the opposition which is fiercely against the legislation.

The bill caps the liability of the operator of the nuclear plant, which is currently in the hands of the public sector in India, at Rs.500 crore. But there are provisions within the legislation that allow the government to scale up liability and take over the responsibility of safeguarding the interests of the victims.

Reliable sources said the government was open to some suggestions like hiking the compensation amount according to the size of the atomic nuclear power plant to blunt the criticism of the opposition parties.

The government will try to convince the critics that the bill has been designed to strike a fine balance between the interests of the victims of a potential nuclear accident and the security of investors.

The Samajwadi Party, which along with the BJP and other parties is opposing the bill, Wednesday appeared to soften down. It said it wanted the legislation to be vetted by a select committee of all parties before it is introduced in parliament as it has several loopholes.

“Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has said that the nuclear liability bill will be introduced in the second half of the budget session and suggestions will be invited from all parties before making changes,” Samajwadi Party national general secretary Mohan Singh said.

The party said the bill was beneficial for the country as it will help spur the country’s nuclear atomic power generation plans. “However, it should be vetted by a select committee of all parties, which should be formed for this purpose in parliament, before the bill is passed,” Singh said.

The government denies that the legislation has been done under US pressure and has insisted that it was conceptualized much before the 2005 India-US civil nuclear deal with a view to ramp up nuclear energy production in the country. It has been in the making for the last 10 years, the sources said.

India plans to scale up its nuclear energy production from the current 4,100 MW to 20,000 MW by 2020 and take it further to 40,000 MW by 2035.

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