Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Two Stupid Ideas: "The BRAI Bill" and "The Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill 2009"

On Sunday, when I wrote about the High Court's wrong-headed attack on Delhi's informal plastic recycling industry, I promised I'd soon tell you about two more stupid ideas. If you've been up at night worrying about what could be as bad as trying to shut down the industry that makes Delhi the de facto Recycling Capital of the World, never fear--your wait is over, because today I will explain it all to you simply.  And I will provide you with two simple things you can do to say no to stupidity! 

(By the way, if you are reading this from outside of India, I would remind you that these very stupid ideas are in large part being pushed by international industries and governments who are trying to do things in India that they would not be able to get away with doing in their home countries...not yet, at least. So take notice--it could be you next!)

1.  Stupid Idea Number 1: "The Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill 2009."
This is a really stupid bill because it provides huge subsidies to big corporations and it encourages irresponsible, unsafe behavior.

First, this bill limits the overall amount of liability for each nuclear accident in India to US $450 million or Rs 2100 crore.  This happens to be less than the courts awarded in the Bhopal disaster way back in 1989!  (For some perspective on how much damage large scale industrial accidents can cause in terms of lives and money, see our "Bhopal by the Numbers" post, which compares Bhopal with Chernobyl, Exxon-Valdez, Hiroshima and other horrible human-made disasters.)

But that's not all; the proposed nuclear bill limits the liability of the private companies who would operate nuclear plants in India to mere 500 crores--(about $110 million). In the case of a big accident, the Government of India would generously make up the difference between the 500 crore that the responsible company would be liable to pay and the 2100 crore overall limit--a very nice gift to the operators of faulty nuclear power plants. (The damage that exceeded the 2100 crore limit would be born, interest free, by the people and the environment of India for thousands of years).

But as hard as it might be to believe this, the bill gets better in terms of generosity--I mean stupidity!  This bill shields private foreign companies from any liability for selling us equipment that breaks or leaks.   US companies demanded this clause in the US-India nuclear deal, which isn't surprising because they seem to have a fair amount of trouble with leaky reactors back home.  The US government won't go forward without it.  HELLO!  Protecting irresponsible Indian companies is bad enough, but why would we agree to protect US companies like this?   Any company that makes something that breaks should be liable in a court of law for the damage caused.  By limiting liability so much, this bill effectively provides a massive state subsidy to foreign nuclear companies--and a slightly smaller one to local nuclear companies .  If we want to provide subsidies, let's subsidize our farmers-- or our own solar power industry!

Of course limiting liability is not just stupid because it's a give away huge corporations.  The real danger is that these subsidies shield nuclear power companies from risk--and by so doing, they encourage risk taking.  And when it comes to nuclear power, encouraging risky behavior is a colossally stupid idea.

This bill will probably pass, simply because the Americans want it to pass and we all know how badly the current government wants the nuclear deal to take affect. But that doesn't mean we have to like it. Protest stupidity!  Sign this on-line petition today.

Stupid Idea Number 2: Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India Bill, AKA "The BRAI Bill"
This is a really stupid bill because it is aims to shut down public debate on GM foods in India in a stupid and repressive way.  Most terrifying is Section 63, which proposes imprisonment and fines for anyone who “without evidence or scientific record misleads the public about safety of GM crops."  (For more on this bill and GM foods in general, see Tehelka's recent cover story on Bt Brinjal.)

Now this Section 63 got me pretty upset, so I went and looked for an expert opinion on the legal aspects of it. I decided to talk to my 9 year old son, because he's been studying for his end-of-year Fourth Standard SST exam, and he knows a lot about our "Rights and Responsibilities."  When I asked him, he said that "our right to express our opinions is definitely one of our Fundamental Rights."  Regarding the BRAI Bill, he replied that this bill sounds "unconstitutional...and stupid!" I have to agree. 

If the legal opinion of a 9 year old doesn't convince you, consider this: Monsanto officials will certainly not be prosecuted for admitting that their Bt Cotton is no longer effective against pests  in parts of Gujarat. After all, their study was conducted by trained scientists. But a Gujarati farm worker who questions the safety of Bt Cotton based on the fact that he has a rash from picking it could face stiff penalties if he doesn't commission a scientific study first.  THAT, my friends, is a TRULY STUPID IDEA, as I'm sure you will agree!

Say no to this stupid (and repressive) bill!  Sign this Greenpeace petition now!


  1. Good points - both of them.

    The common thread running through them both is the subservience to corporations. It's just getting worse.

    Fortunately India still isn't that badly off...yet.

  2. @Bhagwad, you are right about the common thread I think! I enjoyed your post about software today, by the way and am going to use it sometime soon, I think.

  3. Indian Should be declared as "Banana Republic" as the whole idea of welfare state has failed.

  4. @Kabir, I'm afraid you may be right--the bananas are good, especially down south; but as for the republic, it's in some danger if we let bills like this pass!

  5. I think it is high time citizens got together and went for the jugular and put traitors such as Prithviraj Chauhan in jail.

    I mean, politicians are here to serve us and run things with our tax money. So why should they make decisions that go against our interest?

    Let us get together and put this stupid minister in jail and send a strong message to others of his ilk that we citizens will not be taken for granted any longer. Please lead the way, Greenpeace

  6. @Kieran, glad to have you stop by. I think you are right; Greenpeace is working on this:
    they say, "Arrest the Minister!"

    Do come back again soon!

  7. Very informative... and surprising.

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What do you think?