The recent verdict on the world’s worst industrial disaster, Bhopal gas leak tragedy, which handed out a meager penalty to the convicts, is casting a shadow on the American hope of the Civil Nuclear Liability Bill from being passed in Indian Parliament.
India’s main opposition party the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has for the first time asked the government to withdraw the Bill in the wake of the Bhopal gas fiasco verdict. 'We are opposing this (Bill) in parliament,' said BJP spokesman Shahnawaz Hussain. The bill is facing opposition across main political parties.
A trial court in Bhopal, capital of India’s central state of Madhya Pradesh, sentenced seven officials of former US-based Union Carbide Corporation to two years’ imprisonment for criminal negligence in the gas leak. However, they were immediately granted bail. They were also imposed a meager fine of Rs100,000.
Anti-nuclear activists and environmentalists are drawing clear parallels with the gas tragedy. They have been criticising the nature of the bill and accusing it of “protecting the American interest” and ignoring “Indians’ rights”.
The absence of stringent laws in the country enabled former Union Carbide Company escape criminal liability after the gas leak on December 2-3 1984 killed thousands of lives immediately and in years to follow.
Activists fear the same absence of criminal liability in the bill will let suppliers of nuclear technology and equipment in the US go scratch free in case of a nuclear disaster which would be much bigger and dangerous than the gas leak tragedy.
“The present nuclear agreement with the US is contentious. It ignores the welfare of the nation and overtly protects the suppliers of the technology,” accuses Kruna Raina, from Greenpeace Foundation.
Uday Kumar, coordinator, National Alliance of Anti-nuclear Movements (NAAM), says, the Bill will help the supplier companies to reap the profits from nuclear commerce and investment in India but if there is an accident they would not be liable to pay any compensation to the victims.
“According to this legislation, if there is an accident in a nuclear power facility, the onus for paying the damages will be on the operator of the facility. In this case on Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd. (NPCIL), the operator of the nuclear facilities in the country,” says Kumar.
The NPCL, which is a public company, will use the taxpayers money for compensation whereas foreign suppliers will just pocket the profit and pay nothing.
Another contention anti-nuclear activists have is that the Bill provides a cap of Rs 2,400 crores by way of damages which is not enough. They say the liability clause is not stringent enough as the Bill does not have the criminal liability clause
“Even 25 years after the Bhopal tragedy, people are not fully compensated. In case of a nuclear disaster there would be many more people, who will be wiped out, suffer from radiation and wait for treatment for many years,” says Kumar.
On June 20, NAAM will protest the bill in the light of the Bhopal Gas tragedy verdict at Koodankulam nuclear power construction site built with the help of Russia in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. The organisation will also conduct a nationwide Nuclear Prohibition Tour on October 2, Mahatma Gandhi’s birth anniversary.
Kumar says the very argument that nuclear energy needed to match the fast growth of the country is a sham. It’s benefiting a tiny per cent of rich in India.
“Real people in India are committing suicide and dying of hunger. To empower people at the grassroots level and to provide energy for growth, energy should be reproduced at a local level. It should be decentralised. Producing electricity at a local level will be more meaningful instead of importing technology and centralising its production,” says Kumar.
He says India does not need nuclear power and says the country has enough resources like solar, wind, hydro to generate clean energy.