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Millennium Post

No compromise on civil liability

Whether it’s a matter of pervasive irony or deep disappointment, Russia’s stance on the nuclear liability clause, flagging it to call off the expected deal over the third and fourth units of the Kudankulam nuclear reactor is simply unbecoming of a longstanding strategic partner of India. Once again, the trouble has emanated from the suppliers’ side, with even the Russians unwilling to accept responsibility in case of a nuclear mishap resulting from faulty equipment. Reminiscent of US recalcitrance to own up in case of a disaster, the Russian reluctance is equally indicative of a global nuclear power trying to browbeat India into nuclear submission and bring into effect an even more diluted and ineffective law that would, for all practical purposes, relieve the suppliers, whether American, Russian or Chinese, of any duty towards the Indian nuclear plant. Evidently, Moscow is the latest in the long line of western suppliers, which include US, UK, France, among others, whose refusal to acknowledge the ground realities, including demographics, population and ecology of the potential or current nuclear plant sites, is basically the crux of the nuclear conundrum at which India is currently staring. It is appalling that not just private corporate bodies, but even the governments, are hand in glove with each other when it comes to extracting private interests at the expense of immense damage to the environment and the local people living in the areas.

Hence, the commercial agreement with Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (the Indian front) and Rosatom (the Russian counterpart) cannot be signed unless the Russians understand that bilateral cooperation and development cannot exclude the larger population from the fruits of growth. If the Fukushima disaster is anything to go by, the authorities should be extra cautious about the Kudankulam nuclear plant, which is not only in an ecologically sensitive region, but is situated along the coast line that harbours a number of marine species that are threatened by the development of the plant, according to several reports. In any case, civil liability is the final frontier, beyond which no compromise can be possible, since it directly affects lakhs of people, whose lives would be on the firing line. Hence, any inter-governmental agreement on the issue must take into account all the possible factors. In fact, the very phraseology used by the Indians in order to purportedly ‘assuaging’ the Russian ‘concerns’ is misplaced and spineless, since what is needed at this juncture is firm resolve on not compromising the nuclear liability clause. We must not forget that many thousands of victims of Bhopal Gas disaster are still awaiting adequate compensation after 29 years of the worst industrial accident in the world, even as the perpetrators lead a free life. The Indians cannot afford a repeat of the sorry chapter.
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