N-liability bill against people

Tags: Opinion
A democratically elected government is supposed to be a government of people’s representatives elected to office by citizens to ensure their security and welfare. A government of the people, for the people and by the people. Just recently, the UPA II government did not live up to that assurance.

Last week, UPA II attempted to push through Lok Sabha the Civilian Nuclear Liability Bill. If ever there was a dangerous, subversive and anti-people bill introduced in Parliament, then this was it.

The bill sought to protect “poor” foreign corporations from the avarice of “greedy” Indians. In the aftermath of the civilian nuclear treaty signed between the two nations, American nuclear corporations are lining up to come to India to set up and run nuclear power generating facilities. The only thing stopping them is a government guarantee that limits the financial liability to clean up their mess and the ability of Indian citizens to seek compensation for the injury ca­used to them. In case their nuclear power plant did a 3 Mile Island or Chernobyl, if there was a radiation leak or a meltdown and, as a consequence, the environment and civilian population suffered, this bill would protect the guilty corporations from being liable for clean-up operations or paying compensation to the poor affected population combined not exceeding $450 million. If the clean-up expenditure and compensation exceeded $450 million, then the government would foot the bill, in other words the taxpaying Indian citizens will foot the bill to clean up the mess created by a foreign company.

Now just look at all the freebies the foreign corporation will get from the government before it produces a single Volt of electricity. The government will have to provide them with cheap or free land. So, instead of negotiating a mutually beneficial deal with Indian landowners, a foreign company will snatch land from a poor Indian farmer who has barely existed on that land for generations. Then state governments will bend over backwards to get them to set up the project in their states offering all sorts of concessions. Who will end up paying for all this? The poverty stricken Indian, who is denied basic amenities like heal­thcare and education.

Foreign companies driven by the sole objective of profits will not sell power they generate at an affordable rate. So Indians will be forced to buy expensive electricity to ensure profits to a foreign company. This may sound very hypothetical and a scenario conjured up by a chronic obstructionist, but it is not. In the not so distant past, Maharashtra had gone through all this with the multinational corporation Enron. After going through all these stages, Enron USA went belly up and Maharashtra was left having to clean up the mess it left behind. The people of Dabhol lost their lands, lost out on the promises of an economic boom and an employment bonanza.

Now comes the part that illustrates the danger the Civilian Nuclear Liability Bill will expose Indian citizens to. For decades, even longer, multinational pharmaceutical companies have been dumping hazardous medicines in third world countries. When America and Europe ban a certain drug because it is harmful to humans, multinational drug companies promptly dump it on poor third world populations of countries where the laws are lax and can be subverted. They do it with impunity, without a check, they could not be bothered about the consequences their greed will inflict on unsuspecting human beings; all they are concerned with is profit. Even with technology, it is the same: unproven, unsafe, untested and hazardous technology is often dumped on third world countries, where governments can be bought off.

How can we be sure that the nuclear power companies will not behave similarly? We don’t have a safety monitoring body to speak of in place. Who will ensure that the companies have implemented all the safeguards that they use back home? Who will certify that the technology they are using is safe? How will the safety of the Indian citizen be ensured against the profiteering greed of foreign corporations - corporations that are seeking to protect themselves from having to pay for cleaning up the damaged environment caused by their plants and have curbed the ability of Indian citizens to seek appropriate compensation for the injury, grief and a threat to life caused by them?

It seems that the UPA II government has forgotten the Union Carbide gas leak tra­gedy, which killed and mai­med so many in Bhopal. Has it also forgotten the sufferings of the victims, Indians, who after so many years are still living with the tragic consequences of the negligence of a rich multinational corporation? The UPA II government may still attempt to push through this treacherous anti-people bill at a more convenient time. We the people of India will have to be alert and careful to safeguard our interests, even our existence.

For the first time, I have begun to feel that in their opposition to the Indo-American Civilian Nuclear Treaty, the Left was right.

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