Dr. Manmohan Singh
The Prime Minister of India
New Delhi 110 001
Dear Dr. Singh,
We, the undersigned, hereby express our grave concern over the recent press reports that ‘The Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill 2009’ is planned to be tabled in the ongoing Budget Session of Parliament and the UPA government is apparently bent upon rushing it through without holding fair and transparent public consultations, regardless of its profound consequences.
A quantum leap in installed capacity for nuclear power generation, from the current level of 4,120 MW to 63,000 MW by 2032, which you have committed yourself to, is but an invitation to disaster given the intrinsically hazardous and potentially catastrophic nature of the industry. It is necessary to further bear in mind that the health burden, clean-up and recovery costs for damages arising out of any nuclear accident are irreversible in consequence and generational in effect, poisoning not just human beings in the vicinity of a nuclear plant but the web of life itself through air, water and soil contamination.
Yet, pretty much shockingly, the nuclear liability bill, approved by the Union Cabinet in last November, understandably overriding strong objections even from two nodal ministries, viz. Finance and Environment, appears to pave the path for the entry of private enterprises, known to cut corners to maximize profits, not just as equipment suppliers but also as operators of nuclear power plants.
The nuclear liability bill, as per the reports leaked in the media, proposes to cap the total liability amount to 3 hundred million Special Drawing Rights. This works out to just about a paltry US$ 450 million or Rs 2100 crore per accident. We find it inconceivable and outrageous that any cap, let alone such a meagre one, be placed on the total liability, regardless of the scale of disaster.
Ironically, the total liability cap amount now being proposed, $450 million, is marginally less than the amount awarded in the Bhopal Gas case way back in 1989, which was a gross under-assessment of liability even at that time. Today, more than two decades since, and given that a major nuclear disaster could very much dwarf the Bhopal disaster, the proposed nuclear liability cap appears to be truly a slap in the face of the people of this country. Further, while the supplier of nuclear equipment would enjoy standard indemnity, the maximum liability of the operator reportedly would not exceed the ridiculously low amount of Rs 300 crore or thereabout. In fact, it may even be as low as Rs 100 crore. This cannot but be considered as a brazen move towards helping profiteering corporations while penalizing the unsuspecting Indian people, who have elected you to the office you hold.
We further draw your attention to the public statement of former Attorney General of India, Soli Sorabjee, that putting a cap on nuclear liability violates the very Right to Life as enshrined in Article 21 of the Constitution.
It is shocking that a bill that compromises the Right to Life is being pushed through without soliciting the opinion of the people of the country, whose health and well-being, safety and human rights, and life, are being put directly in danger.
This is just unacceptable. We strongly condemn any attempt to introduce any caps whatsoever on nuclear liability and that too without widespread public debate on the issues involved.
Hence we demand that the contents of the proposed nuclear liability cap bill be disclosed forthwith to the public.
We further demand that widespread public consultations be held before any attempt is made to introduce such profound changes in the nuclear liability regime.