In the aftermath of the nuclear leaks in Japan, there have been concerns regarding the safety of nuclear power plants around the world. There are some proposals to change the regulatory framework in India to ensure the safety of these plants. We examine some of the issues in the current structure. Which body looks at safety issues regarding nuclear power plants in the country? The apex institution tasked to look at issues regarding nuclear safety is the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board. The AERB was set up in 1983 to carry out regulatory and safety functions regarding nuclear and radiation facilities. The agency has to give clearances for establishing nuclear power plants and facilities. It issues clearances for nuclear power projects in stages after safety reviews. The safety of setting up a nuclear plant in any given area is also assessed by the AERB. For example, it would have looked into the safety of setting up a nuclear power project in Jaitapur in Maharashtra. AERB also reviews the safety mechanisms within existing nuclear plants and facilities. To do this, it requires nuclear facilities to report their compliance with safety regulations, and also makes periodic inspections. Under the recently passed Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act, 2010 the AERB is also the authority responsible for notifying when a nuclear incident takes place. Mechanisms for assessing and claiming compensation by victims will be initiated only after the nuclear incident is notified. Why is the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board in the news? Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced on March 29, 2011, "We will strengthen the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board and make it a truly autonomous and independent regulatory authority." This announcement came in the backdrop of the continuing crisis and high radiation levels at the Fukusima nuclear plant in Japan. News reports opined that the lack of proper autonomy of Japan's nuclear regulator curbed its effectiveness. Japan's ministry of economy, trade and industry regulates the nuclear power industry, and also promotes nuclear technology. These two aims work at cross-purposes. India's regulatory structure is similar to Japan in some respects. What measures has the AERB taken post the Fukushima nuclear incident in Japan? Following the nuclear incident in Japan, a high-level committee under the chairmanship of a former AERB chairman has been set up to review the safety of Indian nuclear power plants. The committee shall assess the capability of Indian nuclear power plants to withstand earthquakes, tsunamis, cyclones, floods, etc. The committee will review the adequacy of provisions for ensuring safety in case of such events. Is there any issue in the current regulatory structure? The AERB is a regulatory body, which derives administrative and financial support from the Department of Atomic Energy. It reports to the secreatry, DAE. The DAE is also involved in the promotion of nuclear energy, and is also responsible for the functioning of the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited, which operates most nuclear power plants in the country. The DAE is thus responsible both for nuclear safety (through the AERB), as well as the operation of nuclear power plants (through NPCIL). This could be seen as a conflict of interest. How does the system of independent regulators differ from this? The telecom sector provides an example of an independent regulator. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India does not report to the Department of Telecommunications. The DoT is responsible for policy matters related to telecommunications, promoting private investment in telecom, and also has a stake in BSNL. Had TRAI reported to the DoT, there would have been a conflict of interest within the DoT. What will the proposed legislation change? Recent news reports have stated that a bill to create an independent regulatory body will be introduced in Parliament soon. Though there is no draft bill available publicly, news reports state that an independent Nuclear Regulatory Authority of India will be created by the bill, and the authority will subsume the AERB within it. This post first appeared as an article on rediff.com and can be accessed here.
In recent public discourse over lobbying, two issues that have underscored the debate are:
- Greater transparency in the policymaking process, and
- Equality of access for all stakeholders in engaging with the process.
There is a need to build linkages between citizens and the policy making process, especially by strengthening scrutiny before a Bill is introduced in Parliament. Currently, there is no process established to ensure pre-legislative scrutiny by the citizenry. Other democracies incorporate several measures to enhance public engagement in the pre-legislative process. These include:
- Making all Bills available in the public domain for a stipulated period before introducing them in the legislature. This includes, publishing these Bills in forms (language, medium etc) that are accessible to the general public.
- Making a report or Green paper on the legislative priorities addressed by the Bill available for citizens.
- Forming adhoc committees to scrutinise the Bill before it is piloted in the House.
- Having Standing Committees examine the Bill before introducing it in the House.
- Providing a financial memorandum for each Bill, which specifies the budgetary allocation for the process/bodies created by the Bill.
- Creating online fora for discussion. For the sections of the stakeholders who have limited access to the internet, efforts are made to proactively consult them through other media.
- Expanding the purview of citizens’ right to petition their representatives with legislative proposals.
There are several instances, in the last few years itself, wherein civil society groups have played an active role in the development of pre-legislative scrutiny in India.
- Public consultation with cross-section of stakeholders when drafting a Bill: The Right to Information Act is seen as a landmark legislation when highlighting the role of civil society actors in the drafting of a Bill. It also serves as a prime example for how it the movement mobilised widespread public opinion for the Bill, bringing together different sections of the citizenry.
- Public feedback on draft Bills: In several cases, after a Bill has been drafted the concerned ministry or public body publishes the Bill, inviting public comments. The Right to Education Bill, the National Identification Authority Bill and the Draft Direct Taxes Code Bill 2009 are recent cases in point. These announcements are made through advertisements published in newspapers and other media. For instance, the government has recently proposed to amend the rules of the RTI and has invited public feedback on the rules by December 27.
- Engaging with legislators: It is important to expand engagement with lawmakers after the Bill has been introduced in Parliament, as they will determine what the law will finally contain. This is done by approaching individual legislators or members of the committee which is likely to examine the legislation. Standing Committees invite feedback on the Bill through newspaper advertisements. For instance, the Standing Committee examining the Civil Nuclear Liability Bill heard testimonies from journalists, civil society groups, thinktanks, public bodies and government departments.
The role of the media and channelising the potential of the internet are other key approaches that need to be explored. Other examples and channels of engagement with the legislative process are illustrated in the PRS Primer on Engaging with Policymakers
Because of the interest in the Women’s Reservation Bill and the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill, we’ve received a number of queries about the process by which a bill becomes an Act. We have a more comprehensive primer on the subject, but here’s the process in brief: •The ministry drafts a text of the proposed law, which is called a ‘Bill’, after calling comments from other ministries, and even from the public. The draft is revised to incorporate such inputs and is then vetted by the Law Ministry. It is then presented to the Cabinet for approval. •After the Cabinet approves the Bill, it is introduced in Parliament. In Parliament, it goes through three Readings in both Houses. • During the First Reading the Bill is introduced. The introduction of a Bill may be opposed and the matter may be put to a vote in the House. •After a Bill has been introduced, the Bill may be referred to the concerned Departmentally Related Standing Committee for examination. •The Standing Committee considers the broad objectives and the specific clauses of the Bill referred to it and may invite public comments on a Bill. It then submits its recommendations in the form of a report to Parliament. •In the Second Reading (Consideration), the Bill is scrutinized thoroughly. Each clause of the Bill is discussed and may be accepted, amended or rejected. The government, or any MP, may introduce amendments to the Bill. However, the government is not bound to accept the Committee’s recommendations. •During the Third Reading (Passing), the House votes on the redrafted Bill. •If the Bill is passed in one House, it is then sent to the other House, where it goes through the second and third readings. •After both Houses of Parliament pass a Bill, it is presented to the President for assent. He/She has the right to seek information and clarification about the Bill, and may return it to Parliament for reconsideration. (If both Houses pass the Bill again, the President has to assent) • After the President gives assent, the Bill is notified as an Act.