AEC Monday meet to evaluate nuclear contract
By Santwana Bhattacharya - NEW DELHI
Published: 22nd Sep 2013 08:52:07 AM
After the outcry over a possible dilution of the stringent Section 17 (B) of the Civil Nuclear Liability Law under pressure from foreign suppliers, the Union Government on the rebound has called a meeting of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) on Monday to “evaluate” the contract between Westinghouse Electric Company of the US and the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd. The about-to-be finalised contract is in the eye of a storm.
The Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) meeting on Tuesday, sources said, will be taking up the issue for discussion “only if approval is received from the AEC”. The CCS has almost been made “subservient” to the AEC. In fact, high-level sources within the government admitted that it is so much on the backfoot, it “will decide whether the issue will be put on CCS agenda only after the AEC meeting” is over. “There’s no timeline that we are following, the CCS may or may not take it up,” the official source said.
The last paragraph of the (leaked) note prepared for the CCS, however, clearly stated that the NPCIL-WEC “preliminary contract” is proposed to be signed “prior to the visit of the Prime Minister in end-September 2013.” The note goes on to add that due to “paucity of time, approval of the AEC cannot be taken, instead approval of the CCS is being solicited directly.”
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is scheduled to leave for the US for the UNGA on September 25 and will be meeting US President Barack Obama in Washington on September 27.
So the government’s contention (expressed by National Security Advisor Shiv Shankar Menon and Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh) that “no timeline being followed” is a course correction of sorts. Similarly, the DAE’s view that the Attorney General G E Vahanvati’s opinion was sought for Kudankulam Unit 3 and 4 contract with the Russian supplier which is in “the advanced stages of negotiation”, does not quite add up.
Vahanvati’s opinion was sought around the time the CCS note was prepared. The A-G’s view that it is up to the NCPIL and its many suppliers to decide whether (it/they) wanted to exercise the right to legal recourse virtually provides the nuclear suppliers a loophole to escape the Section 17 (B) clause of Nuclear Liability Act and bypass the compensation rules in the event of a mishap or malfunction.
It’s not unknown that both WEC and GEC have been pressuring the Indian and US governments for dilution of the stringent compensation provisions in the Indian Act so that they can enter the Indian civil nuclear energy market without the liability baggage. However, all that’s now hanging fire.
A senior official from the nuclear establishment however remained skeptical, he said, the AEC are “peopled by the same group” which has been pushing the CCS for concurrence for the easier contracts.