The Civil Damage for Nuclear Liability Bill, 2010 has been criticised on many grounds (Also click here), including (a) capping liability for the operator, (b) fixing a low cap on the amount of liability of the operator, and (c) making the operator solely liable.  We summarise the main principles of civil nuclear liability mentioned in IAEA's Handbook on Nuclear Law: Strict Liability of the Operator: The operator is held liable regardless of fault.  Those claiming compensation do not need to prove negligence or any other type of fault on the part of the operator.  The operator is liable merely by virtue of the fact that damage has been caused. Legal channeling of liability on the operator: "The operator of a nuclear installation is exclusively liable for nuclear damage. No other person may be held liable, and the operator cannot be held liable under other legal provisions (e.g. tort law)...This concept is a feature of nuclear liability law unmatched in other fields of law."  The reason for this has been quoted in the Handbook as:

"...Firstly, it is desirable to avoid difficult and lengthy questions of complicated legal cross-actions to establish in individual cases who is legally liable. Secondly, such channelling obviates the necessity for all those who might be associated with construction or operation of a nuclear installation other than the operator himself to take out insurance also, and thus allows a concentration of the insurance capacity available.”

Limiting the amount of liability: "Limitation of liability in amount is clearly an advantage for the operator.  Legislators feel that unlimited liability, or very high liability amounts, would discourage people from engaging in nuclear related activities. Operators should not be exposed to financial burdens that could entail immediate bankruptcy....Whatever figure is established by the legislator will seem to be arbitrary, but, in the event of a nuclear catastrophe, the State will inevitably step in and pay additional compensation. Civil law is not designed to cope with catastrophes; these require special measures." Limitation of liability in time: "In all legal systems there is a time limit for the submission of claims. In many States the normal time limit in general tort law is 30 years. Claims for compensation for nuclear damage must be submitted within 30 years in the event of personal injury and within 10 years in the event of other damage. The 30 year period in the event of personal injury is due to the fact that radiation damage may be latent for a long time; other damage should be evident within the 10 year period." Insurance coverage: "The nuclear liability conventions require that the operator maintain insurance or provide other financial security covering its liability for nuclear damage in such amount, of such type and in such terms as the Installation State specifies....This ensures that the liability amount of the operator is always covered by an equal amount of money. The congruence principle is to the advantage both of the victims of a nuclear incident and of the operator. The victims have the assurance that their claims are financially covered, and the operator has funds available for compensation and does not need to convert assets into cash.

Mr. Vaghul, our first Chairperson, passed away on Saturday.  I write this note to express my deep gratitude to him, and to celebrate his life.  And what a life he lived!

Mr. Vaghul and I at his residence








Our past and present Chairpersons,
Mr. Vaghul and Mr. Ramadorai

Industry stalwarts have spoken about his contributions to the financial sector, his mentorship of people and institutions across finance, industry and non-profits.  I don’t want to repeat that (though I was a beneficiary as a young professional starting my career at ICICI Securities).  I want to note here some of the ways he helped shape PRS.

Mr Vaghul was our first chairman, from 2012 to 2018.  When he joined the board, we were in deep financial crisis.  Our FCRA application had been turned down (I still don’t know the reason), and we were trying to survive on monthly fund raise.  Mr Vaghul advised us to raise funds from domestic philanthropists.  “PRS works to make Indian democracy more effective.  We should not rely on foreigners to do this.”.  He was sure that Indian philanthropists would fund us.  “We’ll try our best.  But if it doesn’t work, we may shut down.  Are you okay with that?”  Of course, with him calling up people, we survived the crisis.

He also suggested that we should have an independent board without any representation from funders.  The output should be completely independent of funders’ interest given that we were working in the policy space.  We have stuck to this advice.

Even when he was 80, he could read faster than anyone and remember everything.  I once said something in a board meeting which had been written in the note sent earlier.  “We have all read the note.  Let us discuss the implications.”  And he could think three steps ahead of everyone else.

He had a light touch as a chairman.  When I asked for management advice, he would ask me to solve the problem on my own.  He saw his role as guiding the larger strategy, help raise funds and ensure that the organisation had a strong value system.  Indeed, he was the original Karmayogi – I have an email from him which says, “Continue with the good work.  We should neither be euphoric with appreciation or distracted by criticism.” And another, "Those who adhere to the truth need not be afraid of the consequences".

The best part about board meetings was the chat afterwards.  He would have us in splits with stories from his experience.  Some of these are in his memoirs, but we heard a few juicier ones too!

Even after he retired from our Board, he was always available to meet.  I just needed to message him whenever I was in Madras, and he would ask me to come home.  And Mrs. Vaghul was a welcoming host.  Filter coffee, great advice, juicy stories, what more could one ask for?

Goodbye Mr. Vaghul.  Your life lives on through the institutions you nurtured.  And hope that we live up to your standards.