Need for Independent Review of Indian Nuclear Plants

The Indian government has promised a full safety audit of the existing reactors. The Atomic Energy Commission has also said that they would review the Areva designs taking into consideration the experience of Fukushima. However, the prevailing voice within the nuclear energy establishment is one of smug complacency.

Nevertheless, it is very hard to share such optimism. This is because the issue here is not that a safety audit should be done but who does this safety audit? We have an Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) that draws its personnel from Atomic Energy Commission, report to the Atomic Energy Commission and is even located in the Anushakti Bhavan, the headquarters of the Atomic Energy Commission.

This is no way to run a critical safety regulatory function. It is also contrary to international practice as well as treaties that India has signed on the need to separate regulatory and operational functions in nuclear energy. This remains the single biggest obstacle for a safe nuclear energy program in the country.

In no country with a large nuclear energy program is the nuclear regulator a part of the body it is supposed to regulate. A former chairman of AERB (Mail Today, March 15, 2011, Nuclear Regulation in Shambles, Dr A Gopalakrishnan) has stated that AERB has no serious disaster management oversight and does not have the ability to address serious design and safety issues.

If India is indeed serious about a nuclear energy program, it needs to create a proper safety organisation in this area instead of the current AERB, which has become a virtual rubber stamp for Atomic Energy Commission. A safety audit without an independent regulatory body is of little value.

It is not the best kept secret in the world that Indian plants have had problems at different points. The collapse of the Kaiga dome and the fire in Narora which caused all controls to be lost are cases in point. In Narora, again workers facing very heavy odds, managed a safe shut-down of the reactor manually.

The point is with complete opacity surrounding the nuclear plants and the functioning of the Atomic Energy Commission and its attached body, the AERB, it is difficult to accept the results of the safety audit. We can already predict the report – all we need to do is to listen what the nuclear establishment has been saying for the last few days and we will know what the report is likely to say.

Interestingly, one of the points that the country’s nuclear establishment has made repeatedly is that Pressurised Heavy Water Reactors (PHWRs) — that are the bulk of the Indian reactors — are much more safe than the Light Water Reactors (LWR’s ). If this is indeed so, why the fascination for the LWRs which according to the nuclear establishment is less safe? Why then leave the tried and tested route of PHWRs for which we have indigenous capacity for imported reactors which by their own admission is less safe?

It is in this context we have to look at the controversial Jaitapur project. The government is keen to put 6 units of 1650 MW EPR reactors of Areva, France make. Though Atomic Energy Commission chairman, Srikumar Bannerjee claims that this design is tested, as it has worthy predecessors, the fact remains that there is not one plant of this design that has yet been commissioned.

That a Fukushima type of accident of earthquake-cum-tsunami will not affect Jaitapur is no consolation as no two serious nuclear accidents have ever been alike. Question of how safe this plant is cannot be answered by saying a Fukushima type accident will not occur here.

Jaitapur plant proposes to have 5 per cent enriched uranium as fuel against the normal enrichment of 3.5 per cent for LWRs and natural uranium for PHWR’s. It also has a higher burn rate than the current LWRs. Dr Gopalkrishnan, former chairman, AERB has asked in his article,  (DNA, February 9, 2011, Jaitapur Deficit of Public Trust) “How much understanding, based on relevant data, do Areva and NPCIL together have on the radiological and physical behavior of high-burnup spent-fuel from these EPRs and the consequent serious safety issues related to its long-term storage, cooling, transport and reprocessing?” These questions are not going to be answered based on the belief of a few scientists.

It is interesting also to note that Areva, while claiming its technology is completely safe, has also been very unhappy with the prospect of liability that the current Indian law prescribes, even though the upper limit for such liability is only Rs 1,500 crore. This itself shows how much confidence they have for their technology.

There is little doubt that Fukushima will cast a radioactive cloud over the nuclear renaissance touted by the nuclear industry. Nuclear technology still remains one of the most complex technologies that we know. Rushing in with ever larger sizes and complex designs have been the bane of this technology from the beginning. In their hurry to invite foreign suppliers for the Indian market, the Manmohan Singh government never took this into account.

All the reactors being pushed by foreign suppliers – Areva, GE and Westinghouse – have the same problems regarding provenness of technology and complexity of design.

DAE has been pushing the case for import of 40,000 MW of Light Water Reactors. In this, the DAE and other agencies seemed to have become captive to the PM’s  objective of a strategic tie-up with the US and pushing in imported reactors, without addressing issues of safety. What has been effectively lost sight is that safety of nuclear plants cannot be subordinated to whatever foreign policy objective that the PM has in mind.

The Fukushima disaster provides a clear warning on this.

As India is now trying to induct in a number of foreign reactors, particularly Light Water Reactors, which, by the admission of senior figures in the nuclear establishment, is less safe than the indigenous Pressurised Heavy Water Reactors, it is critical that such designs should be subjected to independent review.

India should halt all import of reactors, particularly of untested and unproven designs from Areva, GE or Westinghouse and focus on creating a proper safety infrastructure for nuclear energy. Till then, there should be a moratorium on all imported reactors including Jaitapur and Kudankulam. Simultaneously immediate steps should be taken up to separate AERB from DAE and make it a truly independent body, reporting directly to the parliament.

Finally, as an immediate measure, all existing plants should be reviewed by creating a task force including independent members outside DAE to make this exercise of safety audit credible.

Prabir Purkayastha/People’s Dmocracy


Nuclear Meltdown: The Threat is Real for India

Japanese nuclear engineers are making heroic efforts at immense personal risk to prevent a steam explosion (not a nuclear explosion) in the Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant (NPP) at Fukushima. This is the point at which the design and construction standards of the concrete double containment structure of the nuclear reactor will have to withstand the explosion.

This could trigger a partial or total meltdown of the reactor core, similar to what happened in USA in 1971 in the Three Mile Island NPP. (This put the US nuclear power industry into the doldrums until USA revived it by negotiating the nuclear deal with India in 2009).

Japan has a reputation for good design and safety standards and good quality control and quality assurance in execution. It would be the fervent wish of every thinking person on the planet that the double containment will not fail and that the engineers will control the desperately delicate situation in the Daiichi NPP. Nobody is as yet even thinking of the costs of containing the accident and the subsequent nuclear clean-up.

But let us now cut to the nuclear situation in India. The issue of Indian design and construction quality standards stands naked when we note that the concrete containment dome of the Kaiga (Karnataka) NPP collapsed when under construction, and had to be rebuilt. It has not been revealed whether it was a failure of design or execution quality.

It is not possible to obtain reliable information regarding the operation, safety standards and performance or other cost, constructional or operational aspects of any NPP because of the following reasons: One, Section 18 (Restriction on disclosure of information) and Section 24 (Offences and penalties) of the draconian Indian Atomic Energy Act 1962, do not permit anybody to even ask questions about NPPs.

Two, nobody except the nuclear industry is permitted to conduct tests for radioactivity even outside the perimeter of any NPP. Three, the Environment Protection Act 1986, does not apply to NPPs. Four, the safety and monitoring agency (AERB) is not an independent agency and the public has to accept whatever health and safety information is released by the NPP or the AERB.

Five, the budget of the DAE is not placed even before Parliament and the power generation and efficiency figures are not available even to the Central Electricity Authority (CEA). In short, the Indian nuclear industry is a closed door to the rest of India, and this can be at the cost of public safety and health.

Further, in the event of a nuclear accident, Government of India (GoI) has sought to cap or limit the liability of operators or suppliers of nuclear hardware and technology to assure profits to the US nuclear industry. In simpler language, this means that the real financial cost of post-accident nuclear clean-up and repair would be borne by India, as the liability of the suppliers would be limited to the cap amount, while the real costs of health and livelihood would be borne by the people.

In view of the secrecy and the poor standards of construction even in the nuclear industry, the conflicting parameters of safety, operational cost and radioactive emissions of any NPP leave the public to guess when one of India’s NPPs may suffer a serious accident, and whether we will be able to handle the disaster effectively and efficiently.

Indian nuclear engineers are second to none, thus the issue of safety in India’s nuclear establishment is institutional. The secrecy, intransparency, unaccountability and self-certification of the nuclear industry makes one doubt whether we will be able to prevent serious emergency or handle it effectively should it happen.

This also raises questions about the advisability of going for mega NPPs such as planned in Jaitapur, Maharashtra. This is quite apart from the fact of enormous resistance to its construction from local people on the grounds of livelihood and environment.

Let us hope that the Indian nuclear establishment would never need to handle a serious accident of the type of Three Mile Island or Chernobyl or Fukushima.

SG Vombatkere

Protests Spread Throughout Arabian Peninsula

Renewed popular protests hit Yemen, Oman and Bahrain yesterday. In addition to the increasing instability of regimes already facing mass opposition, there are signs that the protests that spread from Tunisia and Egypt to the Arabian Peninsula may also overtake Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

In Yemen, mass protests took place throughout the country against US-backed President Ali Abdullah Saleh, while opposition parties—in an about-face from their position on Sunday—refused to participate in a unity government with Saleh. Protests have shaken the Saleh regime since February 11.

Tens of thousands marched in a “day of rage” protest in the capital, Sanaa, demanding an end to bloodshed against demonstrators and Saleh’s departure from power. According to Xinhua, roughly 5,000 people traveled 60 kilometers from Dhamar province to join the protests in Sanaa.

Government supporters reportedly organized another rally in Sanaa, attended by a few thousand people. It called for the resumption of dialog between the ruling party and the opposition to avoid further violence.

Demonstrations took place throughout the country, including in Dhamar, Ibb, Taiz, Aden, Abyan, Shabwa, Al-Bayda and Hadramout provinces. The Ibb protest reportedly gathered 10,000 people. Protests in Aden, the port city that has seen 24 of the 27 confirmed deaths at the hands of state forces, reportedly focused on commemorating those who had been killed.

Saleh simultaneously denounced the protests as orchestrated by Israel and the US and attempted to placate protesters’ anger. He ordered an investigation into the killing of demonstrators in Aden. He also sacked five provincial governors amid reports of violence against protesters in their areas. These included Aden Governor Adnan al-Jefri, Hadramout Governor Salim al-Khanbashi, Al-Hodayda Governor Ahmed al-Jabali, Abyan Governor Ahmed al-Maisary, and Lahj Governor Muhsin al-Naqib. They all received other government posts, however.

Saleh was forced to postpone talks on a unity government with the Joint Meeting Parties. The bourgeois opposition coalition formed in 2006 includes the Islamist Islah Party, the nationalist Popular Nasserist Organization, and the Yemen Socialist Party (YSP), which ruled South Yemen prior to the reunification of Yemen in 1990.

On February 28, its spokesman, Mohammed al-Mutawakil, said the party would “be ready to take part in the joint unity government with the ruling party.” It demanded only that Saleh resign from posts in the army and finance ministry. Yesterday, the Joint Meeting Parties indicated that they would participate in government only if Saleh stepped down.

Tribal leaders and southern separatists are turning against Saleh. Sheikh Hamid ben Abdallah Al-Ahmar, a leader of both the Hached tribe and the Islah party, reportedly endorsed the call for the removal of Saleh last week, together with leaders of the Baqil tribe.

Yassin Ahmad Saleh Qadih, a leader of the separatist Southern Movement, announced that he would push for a referendum on separation after Saleh falls. Though it has only 5.5 million people, compared to 18 million in the north, the south is wealthier and produces most of the country’s daily oil output of 300,000 barrels. Saleh reportedly has warned that the partition of Yemen would break the country into many pieces.

Yemen specialist Gregory Johnsen told the New York Times: “A lot of people are really worried about what happens the day after Saleh is gone. No one knows where the different tribal groupings would land.” Saleh’s Sanhan tribe controls Yemen’s military and intelligence agencies.

In the industrial and port city of Sohar, in northern Oman, the army yesterday again fired on protesters demanding jobs and reform of the absolute monarchy of Sultan Qaboos bin Said. Only one person was reported wounded. The reported death toll for Sunday’s protests was increased to six, however.

Troops and armored vehicles occupied the Globe Roundabout in Sohar, which had attracted up to 2,000 people in previous protests. Protesters blockaded the Sohar port, however, and Westerners in the port management briefly left Sohar for the capital of Oman, Muscat. According to the Tehran Times, protesters demanded that “the benefits of our oil wealth” be “distributed evenly.”

Protesters in Muscat gathered around the buildings of the Shura Council, an advisory body that counsels Sultan Qaboos, demanding jobs, higher salaries and freedom of the press.

Sultan Qaboos issued a statement promising to create 50,000 jobs, implement a $390 per month unemployment benefit, and study the possibility of widening the powers of the advisory council. On Saturday he sacked six cabinet ministers and increased the minimum wage by 40 percent.

Oman is a strategic country located across the Arabian Sea from Iran and astride the narrow Strait of Hormuz, through which Persian Gulf oil exports must travel. The US has backed Qaboos. US State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said, “We have been in touch with the government and encouraged restraint and to resolve differences through dialog.” There are no opposition parties in Oman because political parties are illegal there.

Thousands of protesters again demonstrated in Bahrain’s capital, Manama, against the Al-Khalifa dynasty that has ruled Bahrain for 200 years. The protesters marched from Salmaniah district to Pearl Square, the central square around which anti-government protests have rallied in recent weeks. Demonstrators opposed attempts to divide them along sectarian lines, chanting: “We are brothers, Sunnis and Shiites. The people want the fall of the regime.”

Bahrain hosts a major naval base for the US Fifth Fleet in the Persian Gulf and has close security ties with Saudi Arabia. The Saudi armed forces intervened in Bahrain after popular protests developed there in 1996.

Crude oil prices rose yesterday on reports that 30 Saudi tanks had been transported to Bahrain. Bahraini officials denied the report, though they confirmed the movement of tanks across the border.

“There are no Saudi Arabian tanks in Bahrain,” the officials said. “Tanks identified on Monday evening were Bahraini tanks returning from Kuwait National Day celebrations, where military from several Allied countries participated.”

There are indications that protests may also spread to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, two oppressive pro-US monarchies that are critical to the world oil trade.

In Kuwait, a youth group called the Fifth Fence has announced plans for a March 8 protest outside the country’s parliament. Opposition parties in Kuwait have called for the ouster of Prime Minister Sheikh Nasser Mohammad al-Ahmad al-Sabah, the nephew of Kuwait Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah.

In Saudi Arabia, Internet activists have set up Facebook pages calling for protests on March 11 and March 20, largely based on demands for elections to the Shura Assembly. These pages have attracted 17,000 supporters. However, press reports point out that in 2004 Saudi security forces were able to disperse protests in Riyadh and Jeddah by force, and Saudi officials are monitoring the Facebook pages.

Protests could intensify divisions inside the ruling Saudi monarchy. The UPI press agency noted: “The kingdom faces a potentially touchy royal succession, complicated by the advanced age of the country’s top leaders. King Abdallah, Crown Price Sultan, Interior Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Prince Nayef, and Riyadh Governor Prince Salman are all in their 80s.”


Punish The Guilty, Recover The Loot

Irespective of how the current impasse in the parliament over the demand for a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) to probe into the massive 2G spectrum scam unfolds, it is clear that the country is being pushed deeper into the murky morass of crony capitalism.

Actually, crony capitalism is a tautology. Capital in its urge to maximise profits invariably seeks to bend, if not, violate all rules and regulations. Nepotism in awarding contracts, sweet heart deals in disposing off public properties (like, for instance, the outrageous sale of public sector, Balco and Centaur Hotel, Juhu, Mumbai by the earlier NDA government) and creating illegal and new avenues for money laundering and looting public resources are some of the forms that crony capitalism takes.

The capitalist state puts in place certain rules and institutionalises regulators to ensure adherence to these rules in order to provide a level playing field for the capitalists. However, given the fundamental nature of capitalism, where the big fish eats the small ones, these rules and regulations are pushed to the limits of violation. Capitalism inherently breeds cronyism.

In countries like India, late entrants into the global capitalist system, (particularly when it embraces the neo-liberal economic trajectory of globalisation) such cronyism becomes all pervasive trapping in its web governmental institutions, indeed, the entire government itself. This has precisely been the case in the current 2G spectrum scam, with the Supreme Court now dragging in the prime minister and his office.

To illustrate how such crony capitalism operated in this 2G spectrum scam, consider the following:

For the release of the fourth license and the spectrum needed for operationalising the corresponding universal access service license in January 2008, the communications ministry adopted a completely inexplicable principle of `first come first served’ as well as a license fee based on 2001 price. These 2G licenses were priced at 2001 levels allegedly to ensure that the spectrum should not become expensive, presuming that the benefit would be passed on to the consumers. However, this was nowhere ensured through the license terms and conditions. As a result, the parties who had secured these licenses have sold or are selling their shares at huge profits.

The deal between UAE’s telecom operator Etisalat and a Bombay-based builder’s Swan Telecom has brought out the magnitude of largesse being doled out. Swan Telecom bought a license for 13 circles along with the necessary 2G spectrum for a paltry Rs 1,537 crore. Subsequently, it had sold 45 per cent of its stake to Etisalat for $900 million without putting up any infrastructure, let alone starting operations. This, therefore, was the market price for the spectrum at around $ 2 billion, as against the price of $300 million SWAN paid. With the present exchange rate, this would mean that Swan had got a value 5.9 times of what it had paid just eight months earlier in January 2008 without having spent a single paisa in operationalising its license. The government has actually got only one-sixth of what it should have got, had it gone through a fresh auction route – a loss of Rs 4,500 crore to the exchequer.

But this is not all. Even this loss proved to be an underestimate when one finds the details about the later Unitech-Telenor (of Norway) deal. Here, Unitech like Swan had not spent a single paisa for executing its license. It had sold a 60 per cent stake of the telecom firm, which had paid Rs 1651 crore as license fee for all the 23 circles which it had applied for, to Telenor. Obviously, Unitech got a better return on its sale because it had given away majority stake and had larger number of circles. Unitech had got 6,120 crores. Unitech, thus, had got a valuation which is seven times more than what it had paid.

For a number of these corporations, who were awarded the so-called ‘first come first served’ licenses, the promoters are either unknown or shadow companies. This further reinforces the doubts regarding the bona fides of these companies as also the intent of the policy.

In the interests of the country, it is absolutely essential that this colossal scam must be thoroughly probed. Hence the demand for a JPC. The JPC must not only identify the culprits and prepare the grounds for their punishment, but it must also study the manner in which the system has been so grossly manipulated to allow such a scam to take place. On this basis, more effective rules and regulations must be drawn up to ensure that such known avenues of manipulation are minimised, if not plugged.

Probing the 2G spectrum scam is not only in the interest of upholding political morality. This is absolutely essential. The probe, however, must also result in recovering to the national exchequer the loss estimated by the CAG to be of a mammoth Rs 1,76,379 crores. Our estimations of this loss, stated in these columns earlier, is to the tune of Rs 1,90,000 crores. All those who have been allocated the 2G spectrum at throw away prices must be made retrospectively to pay the difference. The benchmark can be the auction price of the 3G spectrum that is available in public domain. The licenses of those corporates who refuse to do so must be cancelled and these must be freshly auctioned.

Again, the recovery of these monies, unscrupulously looted, is not only to reassert public morality. This recovery is much needed to improve the livelihood of the vast mass of the Indian people. Take for instance, the issue of food security. It has been estimated that to provide all Indian families (APL and BPL) 35 kg of foodgrains at Rs 3 a kilo, it would cost an additional food subsidy of Rs 84,399 crores. The loot in the 2G spectrum scam is nearly double of what is required to provide food security to all Indians. Or, for that matter, to ensure education for all, it is estimated by the National Institute for Educational Planning and Administration (NIEPA) to cost Rs 34,000 crore annually for the next five years. A total of Rs 1.7 lakh crores. This is less than what has been looted in this 2G spectrum scam. The scam accounts for nearly six times of the health budget proposed for this year.

A government that continues to wear the pretence of concern for the aam admi must be forced to speedily uncover the manner in which such a colossal loot of our country’s resources has taken place. Further, the government must be forced to recover this loss and put these huge sums of money to provide the much-needed food security, education and health for our people.

From People’s Democracy

UPA Report Card: Drifting From Tragedy To Farce

The Manmohan Singh government completes 6 years in office today. Alas, it has nothing to show by way of achievement except making India an American satellite. As the following assessment by Prakash Karat underlines, if there is an impression of drift and being directionless, the Congress government has only itself to blame for this plight. After thinking it can go ahead with its own policy prescriptions, it now finds itself in a position where its partners in Government often look at things differently and assert themselves.

The present UPA government is completing one year of its tenure on May 22. Unlike the first UPA government, its second edition did not spell out a common minimum programme. Instead, the Congress-led government began by reiterating its commitment to pursue the neo-liberal agenda. It announced that it would take up those policy measures which it could not push through in its first term in office.

The government also promised to bring in some welfare measures for the aam aadmi. On foreign policy, the government stated that it would adhere to the path taken by the first UPA government of aligning India’s foreign policy in tune with the strategic alliance with the United States of America.

The one-year of the UPA government has been notable for the following:

Firstly, it has totally failed to tackle the relentless price rise of essential commodities particularly food items. This has been the biggest cause for people’s suffering in the past year; for the poor it has meant less food and more hunger and malnutrition.

This is not a “failure” as such but an outcome of the determination to pursue neo-liberal policies. Food items and other essential commodities are traded and speculated in the market in a big way. The forward trading system is the playground for big trading companies and corporates. The government is in the least interested in curbing these interests who are making huge profits.

Secondly, the Congress-led government is in the grip of finance capital and the sway of big business. It believes in cutting taxes for the rich; providing a tax bonanza for big business and maintaining favourable terms for foreign finance speculators.

The Direct Taxes Code which the government proposes to usher in will make India one of the least taxed countries as far as the rich are concerned. In the last financial year, the government provided Rs. 80,000 crore of tax concessions to the corporates. The disinvestment of shares in the profitable public sector units is the favoured agenda of both Indian big business and the US corporate interests.

Every sphere of policy making, whether it concerns the pricing of gas, the allocation of telecom spectrum, opening up of mining and minerals, the financial sector, retail trade or allowing foreign educational institutions into the country – bears the imprint of a government pandering to big business and their foreign finance collaborators.

Thirdly, this type of growth under the neo-liberal regime has spawned crony capitalism. The nexus between big business and politics has become the hallmark of the Congress regime. The legitimacy provided to foreign capital flows from dubious sources through the Mauritius route and other tax havens; the huge illegal mining business flourishing under political protection; the refusal to discipline and penalize law breaking and tax evasions on a large scale on the part of the super rich – all this has promoted a unhealthy and perverted capitalism which is celebrated as India’s growth story.

What this has produced is corruption and illegality on a large scale which affects every sphere of society. The first year of the government has seen the IPL affair, the 2G spectrum allocation scam and the mining scandal of the Reddy brothers. All this can be directly sourced to the nexus between big business and ruling politicians.

Fourthly, the UPA government’s concern for the aam aadmi has proved to be shallow. The Congress and the UPA government are conscious that some relief has to be provided to the people who are the worst victims of the neo-liberal policies.

During the UPA I tenure, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, the farm loan waiver and the Forest Rights Act were some such measures. These were part of the Common Minimum Programme and came into being mainly due to the consistent pressure and struggles waged by the Left parties.

However, under the UPA II, the government has failed to legislate even one substantial measure for relief. The proposed Food Security Bill would have in no way enhanced food security for the people.

After one year, the government is still debating how to bring about such a measure. The Public Distribution System has been further weakened and curtailed. The plight of the farmers does not seem to concern the government which has cut the fertilizer subsidy by Rs. 3000 crore in the current Union budget.

The Common Minimum Programme of the first UPA government had promised to increase public expenditure in education to 6 per cent of the GDP and in the sphere of health to 2 to 3 per cent of the GDP.

As far as education is concerned the combined central and state expenditure is still below 4 per cent. In the case of health the combined budgetary allocation of the Union and state budgets was a meager 1.06 per cent of the GDP in 2009-10, far below the target of 2-3 per cent.

Fifthly, the UPA government has failed to utilize the favourable political atmosphere and the strength of the secular forces in parliament to push for firm anti-communal measures. It seems visibly reluctant to come to terms with the Ranganath Mishra Commission report recommending reservation for the minorities on the basis of their socio-economic backwardness. There has been a noticeable lack of political initiative in dealing with the simmering problem of Kashmir.

As far as tackling the Maoist violence is concerned, the UPA government tends to treat it solely as a law and order problem without realizing that some of its own policies like the licence for indiscriminate mining in the forest areas is alienating the tribal people.

Moreover, it finds itself hampered by its own partner in government, the TMC. Mamata Banerjee has declared that there are no Maoists in West Bengal and therefore there is no need for joint operations against them.

Sixthly, foreign policy under the Manmohan Singh Government has remained steadfast in its fealty to the United States. As a quid pro quo for the nuclear deal, India has agreed to buy billions of dollars of US arms and equipment.

The End Use Monitoring Agreement which would allow American inspections on Indian soil was signed. The Civil Nuclear Liability Bill which has been introduced in parliament to meet the demand of the United States is patently against the interests of the Indian people. The growing military and security collaboration with the US and Israel affects the pursuit of an independent policy.

India has gone along with the United States which is targeting Iran on the nuclear issue. It once more voted against Iran in the IAEA, unlike other non-aligned countries. India is not playing the role of a leading non-aligned country.

In contrast, President Lula De Silva of Brazil has stood up to the United States and refused to go along with the campaign for further sanctions on Iran. President Lula has visited Tehran for talks with the Iranian leadership to find a way out of the impasse and to come to some agreement with the help of Turkey.

One of the few positive aspects in foreign policy is the Prime Minister’s refusal to adopt a confrontationist stance towards Pakistan despite what sections in his government and party wish.

The great potential of shaping an independent foreign policy and strengthening of multi-polarity by India’s vigorous diplomacy and energising forums like the BRIC, IBSA and the trilateral meetings of the foreign ministers of Russia, China and India is being underplayed.

Politically, the striking outcome of the first year of the UPA government is its increasing vulnerability. In May 2009, the UPA won the elections but failed to get a majority. The Congress leadership ignored this reality and became complacent with the unilateral declaration of support by parties like the BSP, SP, RJD and the JD(S). By the end of the first year that complacency has been shattered.

During the last budget session, the Congress had to adopt the tactic of bargain and striking deals to garner support from amongst these parties. The last three weeks of the budget session have witnessed the manouevres to prop up the government’s majority against the cut motions and the struggle to ensure the passage of legislations.

The cynical use of the CBI for political purposes is undermining the credibility of the agency. The wheeling and dealing that saw the postponement of the Women’s Reservation Bill in the Lok Sabha and the introduction of the Civil Nuclear Liability Bill – all portend a tortuous path for the future.

If there is an impression of drift and being directionless, the Congress government has only itself to blame for this plight. After thinking it can go ahead with its own policy prescriptions, it now finds itself in a position where its partners in Government often look at things differently and assert themselves. There is growing opposition within parliament.

As far as the people are concerned, their experience is of a government increasingly callous to their sufferings due to price rise, while it showed great solicitude for big business and the corporates when it felt the impact of the global recession.

After the first six months of the government, there has been the rising tempo of popular struggles and movements. A peak in this struggle was reached with the April 27 hartal called by the 13 opposition parties. A spate of struggles of different sections of the working people have taken place. The struggle is on against the harmful policies of the government and to defend the livelihood and the rights of the working people. The question is whether the UPA government has learnt any lessons from its first year in office.

Oppose The Nuclear Liability Bill

The recent radioactive poisoning death in Delhi has once again highlighted the fact that the Civil Nuclear Liability Act being foisted on the nation will only help American companies get away with murder just as Union Carbide did after killing and maiming thousands in Bhopal. In the Mayapuri case one person died after coming into contact with a radioactive pencil that was disposed of by Delhi University as scrap, the vice chancellor appeared on TV to offer only an apology. No talk of compensation. This is going to be repeated on a horrific scale in case of an accident at nuclear power plants proposed to be built across the country. Sitaram Yechury argues why this the Civil Nuclear Liability Bill must be opposed

On the last day of the budget session of Parliament, the government hurriedly introduced the Civil Nuclear Liability Bill amid largescale protests by the Opposition.

The Left had opposed the introduction of the Bill itself on the grounds of violation of Article 21 of the Constitution, which guarantees protection of life and personal liberty.

Former Attorney General Soli Sorabjee says, “In view of Supreme Court judgements which are part of Indian jurisprudence and whose thrust is for the protection of victims of accidents as part of their fundamental rights under Article 21 of the Constitution there is no warrant or justification for capping nuclear liability.”

However, it is precisely such a cap that the Civil Nuclear Liability Bill introduces.
The proposed Bill has sought to limit all liability arising out of a nuclear accident to only 300 million Special Drawing Rights (about $450 million) and the liability of the operator only to Rs 300 crore.

The difference between $450 million and Rs 300 crore (about $67 million) is the government’s liability. Given that a serious accident can cause damage in billions, the small cap of $450 million that’s been proposed shows the scant regard the the UPA has for the people.

The Bhopal Settlement of $470 million reached between the government of India and Union Carbide and accepted by the Supreme Court, has been shown to be a gross underestimation. Even today, gas victims are suffering and have received only meagre compensation.

It is unconscionable of the UPA government to suggest that all nuclear accidents, which have the potential of being much larger than Bhopal, be capped at a figure that has already been shown to be a gross underestimate. Since the government wants to allow private operators in the nuclear power sector, this low level for compensation is meant to serve their interests too.

Apart from this, the minuscule liability of Rs 300 crore for the actual operator is tantamount to encouraging the operator to play with plant safety.

The Indian legal regime is quite clear: for hazardous industries, the plant owners have strict liability. Neither does the law accept any limits to liability — the party concerned must not only pay full compensation but also the cost of any environmental damage that any accident may cause. The Oleum leak from Sriram Food and Fertility settled the liability regime in India and any legislation seeking to cap liability will be completely retrogressive.

Contrary to the claims being made, the Vienna Convention — the basis of the proposed Nuclear Liability Bill — does not cap nuclear liability but only puts a minimum floor. It also allows countries to operate their liability regimes. For example, Germany, Japan and Finland all have unlimited liability, the same as current Indian law.

The US has a liability cap of $10.2 billion. Not only is the Indian government proposing to cap liability of nuclear plants, but it is also proposing a cap of only $450 million, way below the consequences of any serious nuclear accident. It appears that in order to promote private nuclear power and foreign suppliers, the UPA government is willing to sacrifice its own people.

The suppliers’ liability is also being considerably weakened by the proposed Bill. Instead of the normal contract law, where recourse of the operator to claim damages is inherent, the Bill limits this recourse only if it is explicitly mentioned in the contract. Otherwise, the nuclear operator cannot claim compensation from the supplier of equipment even if it is shown to be faulty.

It is evident that contracts for buying US nuclear reactors will explicitly exclude any liability on the part of the suppliers and, therefore, by the law to be adopted, they will go scot-free even if an accident occurs due to a defect in the equipment supplied by a US company.

In fact the UPA-II government wanted such a legislation, which the prime minister could carry with him to the Nuclear Security Summit that President Obama convened in Washington in April. However, following the controversial passage of the Women’s Reservation Bill in the Rajya Sabha with the help of marshals, the crucial support of 47 Lok Sabha MPs belonging to the BSP, SP and RJD was not forthcoming.

This obstacle, however, appears to have been overcome now through possibly some ‘bargain’ similar to what happened at the time of the passage of the Indo-US nuclear deal.

The US is insisting that this law be enacted to protect US suppliers of nuclear equipment from liability to pay compensation in the case of a nuclear accident. Currently, only the State-run Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd. under the existing Atomic Energy Act can operate nuclear power plants. But with the opening up of international nuclear commerce, US companies have sought a civil nuclear liability framework to be put in place before they enter.

The US government has linked the completion of the Indo-US nuclear agreement to India’s capping of nuclear liability. The UPA-I government, prior to the ratification of the 123 Agreement, had given a written commitment that India will buy nuclear reactors from the US totalling 10,000 megawatt of capacity.

This Bill has now been referred to the parliamentary standing committee for its consideration. It will now be tabled in the monsoon session. It is imperative for all political parties to ensure that the government is not allowed to disregard the life and safety of the Indian people through such a legislation. Article 21 of the Constitution and the various judgements of the Supreme Court cannot be allowed to be violated.