How to Smuggle a Nuclear Liability Bill

It’s easy to pull a fast one on the people of a democracy. Let everyone agree to a bill after debating it for days, and then at the last moment, quietly introduce a small but crucial change which almost reverses the meaning! Now we cross our fingers and hope no one notices. Usually no one does. But if they do notice, no problem. Let the¬†hullabaloo¬†die out and then do the same thing again – after all, what matters isn’t what’s agreed on, but what finally passes into law.

Sleight of Hand in Parliament

Sleight of Hand in Parliament

There have been two attempts so far to play this game with the Nuclear liability Bill. In the first instance, the word “and” was inserted into a crucial line on Page 30 which gave nuclear suppliers a way out in case of a nuclear disaster.

In fact, whoever played this trick was so sure it would go unnoticed, that they didn’t even bother to do a good job. The final version had Page 30 crossed out with a pen and a new page was stapled in. The Hindi version of the bill was even worse. The extra word was written in by hand!

The second attempt was more skillful and actually managed to get the Cabinet’s approval. The latest change is that nuclear suppliers can’t be held liable for damages unless there is intent to cause nuclear damage! This is so ridiculous, it defies belief. How on earth can you prove that a supplier wanted to cause a disaster? That won’t be liability, but sabotage. It’s an impossible standard of proof and will in effect, let all suppliers off the hook no matter how much at fault they are merely because they didn’t “intend to cause it.”

By this standard, even those responsible for the Bhopal Gas tragedy wouldn’t be accountable.

This kind of cheating isn’t restricted only to the Indian parliamentary system. Many other countries also have these loopholes. The recent Wall Street bill in the US had something of the sort. The heartening thing is that the opposition and the media are doing their job. Recently, the BJP has been doing a better job of being in opposition instead of just disrupting the house all the time. And the media’s coverage reflects the public’s interest in the matter. All good signs.

When the final bill comes up in Parliament on Wednesday, you can be sure that none of the parties is going to accept the second change. I’m proud. At least something’s working the way it should.

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Comments

  1. I wonder how much the politicians and babus got paid…

    Reply

  2. How did I miss this, Bhagwad, well said! Will post to FB now.

    Reply

  3. VISHAL SHARMA says

    I think these bills are drafted with the consultancy of suppliers and others. And they force the bureaucrats not to mention somethings first time. May be they keep their fingers cross and wish for to let the bill pass without any notice. And if someone notices than they do some other rectifications.
    This is Indian type of politics and it can’t be found anywhere else in this world.

    Reply

    • In reply to VISHAL SHARMA

      You're right. It's probably the bureaucrats who do it even without the consent of the politicians. But it's not just India. As I've said in the last para or so, other countries have the same issue…

      Reply

      • In reply to bhagwad

        I don’t think a bureaucrat doing this, the second time around, when the sneaky act was caught the very first time itself, is possible (or is at least very unlikely), given the attention of the opposition and the media. I wonder which bureaucrat would be so courageous to go against cabinet ministers.

        Moreover, I think these bills are drafted after lot of deliberations.

        Reply

  4. This was an important issue that received appropriate media coverage. Perhaps, the BJP got a bit less credit for it in the media? [ :) ] By credit I don’t mean simply mentioning, but something like a congratulatory interview the kind Sonia Gandhi had enjoyed on the passage of women’s reservation bill in the Rajya Sabha.

    Also, what is most surprising is this:

    1. CWG corruption (without much evidence) –> perceived beneficiary: Kalmadi &/or Sheila Dixit.

    2. Telecom scam case (again without strong evidence in the public domain) –> perceived beneficiary: A. Raja

    3. Twin attempts (and might I add, pretty blatant) at duping the parliament and the nation in case of passage of nuclear liability bill –> ?

    The thing I want to illustrate is, the above question mark could’ve been filled in with any person/entity the media wanted to from among the UPA/cabinet/nuclear suppliers, and nobody would have raised an eyebrow. And it is this power to shape opinion, without any attendant accountability that bothers me. And this shaping of opinion does not even take a lot of apparent dishonesty. It is just how words are used or facts are brought out that is sufficient. Hint: when an allegation is made that Man Mohan Singh enjoys very little autonomy in functioning, it is pointed out that he “single-handedly” got the US to sign the 1-2-3 agreement, and that he ‘personally’ oversees the issues related to the nuclear deal.

    Sorry for digressing from the main issue, but this was such an illustrative case that I just couldn’t resist! :D

    But important question is, when someone indulges in this kind of blatant dishonesty, what could be the motive? So, on to the issue, I do cut UPA some slack. Though my understanding is not very good on this, it is possible that if the liability would be too high, then reactor suppliers would be reluctant to enter contracts with India, which would be very bad for the future of Indian economy as power is an essential ingredient for progress and sustenance of a growing population. This would be one of the motives for the dishonesty. Otherwise, of course there is one of the regular conspiracy theories in my mind. :P That the nuclear suppliers offer kick-backs to the governments of developing countries to make favorable policies for them. There was a conspiracy theory that for pushing the 1-2-3 agreement General Electric (one of the major potential nuclear reactors suppliers) had paid the UPA a kick-back of US $ 450 million (which all had happened just before the general elections – an event that as your ToI friend pointed out requires lot of monetary expenditure), and it is for this reason that George W. Bush was also in such a hurry to get the deal signed even at the end of his career when it was hardly going to help the US a lot strategically or even economy-wise (of course, with this assumption that just like the UPA, Bush would also be recipient of GE’s generosity). Is it true that in the US kickbacks are considered legal as part of ‘lobbying’?

    Thanks!

    Reply

    • In reply to Ketan

      I’m inclined to believe that the “corrections” were made by bureaucrats and not by politicians. I really have no idea though…

      But what India managed to pull off with the bill was remarkable. I don’t think any other country has supplier liability the way we managed to push through. The US is in fits since even by International standards, our provisions are pretty tough. Of course, India being a large potential market has the power to shape what is acceptable and what is not.

      I think it got pretty good coverage in the media though. As far as having a scapegoat, there was no one single person who could have been pin pointed. Let’s see if this sort of thing happens again. I have to congratulate the BJP for doing a fine job on not just opposing when necessary, but also supporting at the right moments.

      Reply

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