Kudankulam agreement void if it violates Nuclear Liability Act: Supreme Court

Agreement which makes Indian government liable is against law of the land, contends petitioner

By Ankur Paliwal
Published: Thursday 04 October 2012

The Supreme Court of India on Thursday said that the intergovernmental agreement signed between India and Russia in 2008 to build four nuclear power plants in India, including one at Kudankulam, would be deemed null and void if it does not adhere to the Nuclear Liability Act. The court said this while hearing the petition challenging the Madras High Court judgement, granting clearance to the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project (KNPP) to load fuel.

Prashant Bhushan, counsel of the petitioner, said that according to the agreement between India and Russia, the Indian government will pay the liability in case of an accident. It goes against the “polluter pays principle”, which states that the public exchequer cannot pay for the faults of industry that causes any accident. What's more, the “absolute liability principle” states that the liability of an hazardous industry is absolute without any exceptions, fault or limits, argued Bhushan.

The agreement is in violation of the Nuclear Liability Act of 2010 that makes the nuclear operator liable—Nuclear Power Corporation of India in case of KKNPP—and limits it to merely Rs 1,500 crore. It also states that the operator would have the right to recourse against the reactor supplier in case of fault in the  equipment. But even this minimal liability of supplier has been done away with by the government by having an agreement with Russia that shifts the burden completely on to the national exchequer, says the petitioner.

Not only is this contrary to law, but also severely compromises the safety of the plant because the supplier would not fear liability, said Bhushan. Nuclear equipments are expensive and even minor safety additions can easily exceed the maximum liability amount of Rs 1,500 crore as per the Act, reads the submission. Hearing the counsel, the court made an observation that any agreement between the two nations would be null and void if it violates the Act.

But an official of Atomic Energy Regulatory Board official, seeking anonymity, said: “We get plants in India only after thorough safety checks.” The court has asked the Central government to present its side of the case on the next hearing on October 11.

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