We definitely need Nuclear Liability Bill, but not in haste

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Ever since the Chernobyl disaster which killed thousands and affected millions, there have been number of efforts to create common international standards on liability and compensation; so that the responsibility of such a disaster can be fixed and the victims of the disaster are given a fair compensation. There are four international conventions on nuclear liability issue. The 1960 Paris Convention, The 1963 Vienna Convention, 1997 Protocol to Amend Vienna Convention  and 1997 Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage. India is not a party to any of these conventions and hence has no legal obligation to adhere to these conventiosn.

There are about 30 countries that operate civil nuclear power. Most of these countries have "some sort of nuclear liability act in force in their territory either as a result of adherence to these international conventions or through enacting national liability law." In India, "there is no provision in the Indian Atomic Energy Act, 1962 about either nuclear liability or compensation for nuclear damage due to nuclear accident or incident. Nor are there any other laws that deal with nuclear liability. It was in this context that the new law (The Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill) has been proposed and also on the necessity of joining an appropriate international liability regime [Indian Express]."

The Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill says, "The liability due to any damage caused by these plants are borne by the central government. ... It caps the liability of any incident at SDR 300 million (approximately Rs 2100 crore at current conversion rates); the maximum liability of any single operator is capped at Rs 500 crore.  The liability of any damage beyond this level will lie with the central government [PRS]."

What does it mean?
The liability of the operator of (civil) nuclear facility is capped at Rs 500 Crore. This means,  "Central Government shall be liable for nuclear damage in respect of a nuclear incident when such liability exceeds the Rs.500-crore liability limit of the operator or where the accident occurs in a nuclear installation owned by it [i.e. the Indian government]."

Currently, Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) is responsible for the generation of nuclear power for electricity. NPCIL is the only power utility company in India which uses nuclear fuel sources and hence it becomes the sole operator responsible for nuclear power generation. Since it is owned by government of India, NPCIL's liability becomes the liability of the government and hence the burden falls on tax payers. Thus, in case of nuclear emergency, the suppliers will have no responsibility whatsoever to compensate the victims and all the compensation has to be borne by government and hence tax payers.

On the other hand, "the foreign reactor builder (supplier) — however culpable it is for a nuclear accident — will be completely immune from any victim-initiated civil suit or criminal proceedings in an Indian court or in a court in its home country. So, even if the accident were triggered by wilful negligence on the part of the foreign supplier and the consequences were catastrophic, all claims would have to be filed against the Indian state."

How does this "liability" work in US?
In the united states, Price-Anderson Act deals with the issue of nuclear liability. This act makes the suppliers legally liable for damages caused by the nuclear emergency. But, this liability is "channeled" to the facility operator. What this means is, "in US, the supplier is insured under the nuclear liability facility form policy written by the American Nuclear Insurers (ANI) and purchased by the facility operator." i.e. the supplier is insured under (or with?) ANI and that insurance is purchased by the facility operator. Thus, the supplier is virtually free from legal responsibilities. [More on this here]

Why US wants India to have a liability bill?
"India is on record wanting to buy 10,000 MW of nuclear reactors from the US suppliers. The US nuclear industry wants the billions of dollars in profits from Indian sales, but does not want any risks: good old risk-free capitalism, US style. This is the genesis of the nuclear liability bill – a hefty subsidy from Indian tax payers for the US to be able to market its reactors. [Read More]"
What do critics say about the bill?
  1. The Price Anderson Act in the United States capped liability at an amount 23 times higher than the sum the Indian Bill seeks to fix.
  2. Russians and the French were doing nuclear business with India without demanding this kind of legislation.
  3. There cannot be a situation where the foreign supplier has zero liability, and the public sector and the Indian government have all the responsibility and the liability.
  4. However, no liability will be fixed on the foreign supplier companies even if there is a mishap because of a manufacturing defect. This provision has been strongly opposed by the Left, the BJP and environment groups.
  5. "Government was bringing the law in the PSU regime and may perhaps allow private companies to run nuclear power plants in the country who would be liable under the same rule of law". Though government doesn't intend to bring in private players, "Who knows what the government will do after the law is passed?" Read More.
The way forward
In the united states, American Nuclear Insurers (ANI) plays a significant role. ANI's purpose is to pool the financial assets pledged by it's member companies to provide the significant amount of property and liability insurance required for nuclear power plants and related facilities throughout the world. But in India, there is no institution like ANI and government becomes the insurer of last resort. Government cannot be lenient towards the suppliers and the responsibility of damages should be shared by suppliers at least to a reasonable extent. There cannot be a situation where the foreign supplier has zero liability, and the public sector and the Indian government have all the responsibility and the liability.

In the recent years, though the nuclear industry has achieved an impressive safety record, we cannot say we can obviate an unpredictable emergency situation. Under such context, The Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill has crucial role to play and Government of India and the people of India cannot afford a hasty decision on this issue. Government definitely needs to take a second look at the framework of the bill.

Women's Reservation bill may be a blunt instrument, but no one has suggested anything better

Monday, March 8, 2010

"The issue of empowerment of women has been raised in different fora in the country from time to time. Political empowerment of women is rightly perceived as a powerful and indispensable tool for eliminating gender inequality and discrimination." Positive discrimination has been one of finest discovery of the democracy in order to create equality of opportunity for the hitherto deprived sections of society. Indian women had been ignored since the time unknown. It is high time that our society gives enough attention to the cause of women's rights. After all, "Our full potential as a nation will only be realised when women, who constitute about half of our population, can fully realise their potential."

"What a gift it would be if in the centenary year of International Women's Day the Women's Reservation Bill were to be passed." Despite the noble intentions, the bill couldn't be passed in Rajya Sabha today. It is unfair to say that the issues raised by the opponents are not genuine. But in any case, women - whether they belong to upper castes or lower castes or middle castes - should be represented equally or adequately.

What does the bill say?
  1. The Bill seeks to reserve, as nearly as possible, one-third of all seats for women in the Lok Sabha and the state legislative assemblies (including Delhi). The allocation of reserved seats shall be determined by such authority as prescribed by Parliament.
  2. As nearly as possible, one third of the total number of seats reserved for Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribes (SC/ST) in the Lok Sabha and the legislative assemblies shall be reserved for SC/ST women.
  3. Reservation of seats for women shall cease to exist 15 years after the commencement of the Act.
  4. Reserved seats may be allotted by rotation to different constituencies in the state or union territory. If a state or union territory has only one seat in the Lok Sabha, that seat shall be reserved for women in the first general election of every cycle of three elections. If there are two seats, each shall be reserved once in a cycle of three elections. Similar rules apply for seats reserved for SC/STs. Of the two seats in the Lok Sabha reserved for Anglo Indians, one will be reserved for women in each of the two elections in a cycle of three elections.
What do the critics say?
  1. Opponents argue that it would perpetuate the unequal status of women since they would not be perceived to be competing on merit. They also contend that this policy diverts attention from the larger issues of electoral reform such as criminalisation of politics and inner party democracy.
  2. Reservation of seats in Parliament restricts choice of voters to women candidates. Therefore, some experts have suggested alternate methods such as reservation in political parties and dual member constituencies.
  3. Rotation of reserved constituencies in every election may reduce the incentive for an MP to work for his constituency as he may be ineligible to seek re-election from that constituency.
  4. Reservation would not lead to political empowerment of women because (a) larger issues of electoral reforms such as measures to check criminalisation of politics, internal democracy in political parties, influence of black money, etc. have not been addressed.
  5. it could lead to election of “proxies” or relatives of male candidates.
What do the proponents say?
The proponents of the policy of reservation state that although equality of the sexes is enshrined in the Constitution, it is not the reality. Therefore, vigorous affirmative action is required to improve the condition of women. Also, there is evidence that political reservation has increased redistribution of resources in favour of the groups which benefit from reservation. A study about the effect of reservation for women in panchayats shows that women elected under the reservation policy invest more in the public goods closely linked to women’s concerns. A 2008 study, commissioned by the Ministry of Panchayati Raj, reveals that a sizeable proportion of women representatives perceive an enhancement in their self-esteem, confidence and decision-making ability.

What is quota within quota issue?
To put it simple, quota within quota means, "sub-reservation for STs, SCs, OBCs and Minority communities within the 33 percent quota."

The main political parties who oppose the bill say that, the bill is a conspiracy by the Congress and the BJP to prevent Muslims, backwards and Dalits to get elected to the Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabhas. Contending that the reservation would benefit only upper caste women, they have demanded a separate quota for OBC women.  On this issue, PMK has given a written view that,

“...this means that within seats reserved for Scheduled Castes men one third seats will be reserved for SC women. This implies that other women belonging to Backward Classes, Minorities and other weaker sections of the society, who now enjoy benefits under various Government programmes such as education, employment, development programmes are deprived of political reservation. This is against the concept of equality and runs contrary to Constitutional provisions. It discriminates between women of different groups and will enable increased representation of only women from upper castes, which would perpetuate the already raging disparities among women. This unjust situation has to be remedied...."
Noting that, "not a single Muslim was elected to Parliament from states like Gujarat, MP, Maharashtra, Punjab and Haryana", the opponents say,  "how can a Muslim woman could be elected without reservation? This bill is dangerous as women have been included in reservation being extended to Muslims, OBCs and SC/ST. If this bill is enacted, especially Muslims and OBCs would be at the receiving end."

Under this context it is interesting to note what Nationalist Congress Party has to say,
"...we don’t find any need for reasons for special quota for OBC within the women’s quota as suggested from certain quarters. Now there are 429 seats excluding reserved seats for SC/ST category in the Parliament. There is no reservation for OBC in the abovementioned existing unreserved seats. But still there is good representation for OBC category in the Parliament at present. Same is the case of OBC category in the State Assemblies as well....."
The way forward
If one takes a closer look at various opinions noted in the Parliamentary standing committee report,  it is abundantly clear that, there is some truth in what the opponent parties like RJD and SP are saying. It may be foolishness to think of women empowerment if only women from political houses enter the houses of parliament and assemblies. The very idea of women reservation is to give opportunity to those who may not get that opportunity under normal circumstances. Reservation for women belonging Scheduled Caste and Scheduled tribes in local bodies have given a fruitful results (with some exceptions though). It is the responsibility of the government to address these genuine concerns and those concerns are too big to be ignored.

But in any case it is important for us to note what National Federation of Indian Women says, "we want reservation for women, they may belong to upper castes or lower castes or middle castes. We won’t mind, but women should be represented equally or adequately....... we cannot reject the Bill on any of these issues that are being raised and sought to be solved within the ambit of the Bill."

Some are of the opinion that, "Women's reservation bill itself is a bias towards women" and they would be happier "if women could stand up for their rights on the basis of merit, and not on the basis of reservations." True, but they must understand that the equality of opportunity must be seen in historical and constitutional context (follow the link for more on that). There was a time when women expected nothing but oppression and discrimination in the society. Today, there is a need for "positive discrimination" for attaining gender equality.

"Reservation may be a blunt instrument, but no one has suggested anything better." Do you think of any better alternatives to reservation so that "good things" that come out of reservation can still be retained?

Also Read:
  1. Women's Reservation Bill - Not yet a dead letter "again"
  2. Women's Reservation Bill - The end of U turn?
  3. Women's Reservation Bill: Parliament set to create history
  4. Gender-less democracies - The Hindu.

This post has used the data and analysis already made by PRS Legislative Research.

What's your Idea of India? Do you have one?

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Every time a linguistic chauvinist attacks a helpless migrant from other state, every time the religious fundamentalists, terrorists, Naxalites and Maoists attack the innocent lives, we tend to question the very foundation of our nation - "The idea of India." When Thackerays test the idea of India, equality and freedom enshrined in our constitution are challenged. When religious fundamentalists desecrate the places of worship, the freedom of religion in our country is questioned. When Naxals and Maoists kill the innocent lives in the remote villages, our right to life and liberty is attacked. When we cannot convict the culprits even after decades of legal fight, the justice guaranteed in our constitution is challenged.

Looking at these challenges we are facing in our country today, don't you think we are going back to square one where we fought hard for these fundamental rights? Can these challenges be overcome? Yes!, says our home minister:
"Every challenge tests the will and determination of the people. The US emerged stronger from a civil war. Winston Churchill led the British people in the defence of their island against a powerful enemy and vowed “we shall never surrender.” Japan rose from the ashes to become a world economic power. Belying all predictions, the Wall was brought down and Germany was united. The peaceful rise of China is liberating millions of people from poverty. India is no stranger to the “can do” spirit; it was best exemplified by the life and work of Mahatma Gandhi who said “Be the change that you want to see.” Our challenges – formidable as they are – can be overcome."
As he rightly points out in his speech at 6th Nani A. Palkhivala Memorial Lecture, "The idea of India" is important to overcome the challenges we are facing today. It is interesting to note from his speech that, "we draw that idea from our own circumstances – birth, family, upbringing, education and the like. That idea is also shaped by our experiences like success and failure, joy and sorrow. It is also influenced by others such as family members, friends, adversaries, colleagues and superiors. Ultimately, each one of us forms an idea of India. In the case of most people, the idea of India is vague, undefined and with barely visible contours; yet with a little prodding, it is possible to draw out every person to define his or her idea of India."

In our country, we have thousands of individuals fighting for their own "idea of India". Some fight for "improvement in the living standards and access to all basic needs such that a person has enough food, water, shelter, clothing, health, education etc.", some fight for "A stable political, social and economic environment, with associated political social and economic freedoms, such as equitable ownership of land and property." And of course, there are many others fighting for many other noble causes.

As Mr. Chidambaram puts it, "all these ideas put together, makes the Idea of India". If Mahatma Gandhi's words - “Be the change that you want to see” - are taken under this context, each one of our ideas can change the lives around. However small or big is our idea of India, it is important that we have one.

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This work by Manjunath Singe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 India License. The views and opinions expressed in this work are strictly those of the author and do not represent his employer's views in anyway.