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.
Tribunals function as a parallel mechanism to the traditional court system. Tribunals were established for two main reasons - allowing for specialised subject knowledge in disputes on technical matters and reducing the burden on the court system. In India, some tribunals are at the level of subordinate courts with appeals lying with the High Court, while some others are at the level of High Courts with appeals lying with the Supreme Court. In 1986, the Supreme Court ruled that Parliament may create an alternative to High Courts provided that they have the same efficacy as the High Courts. For an overview of the tribunal system in India, see our note here.
In April 2021, the central government promulgated an Ordinance, which specified provisions related to the composition of the search-cum-selection committees for the selection of members of 15 Tribunals, and the term of office for members. Further, it empowered the central government to notify qualifications and other terms and conditions of service (such as salaries) for the Chairperson and members of these tribunals. In July 2021, the Supreme Court struck down certain provisions of the Ordinance (such as the provision specifying a four-year term for members) stating that these impinged on the independence of the judiciary from the government. In several earlier judgements, the Supreme Court has laid out guidelines for the composition of Tribunals and service conditions to ensure that these Tribunals have the same level of independence from the Executive as the High Courts they replace.
However, Parliament passed the Tribunals Reforms Bill, 2021 in August 2021, which is almost identical to the April Ordinance and includes the provisions which had been struck down. This Act has been challenged in the Supreme Court. For a PRS analysis of the Bill, please see here.
On 16th September 2021, the central government notified The Tribunal (Conditions of Service) Rules, 2021 under the Tribunals Reforms Act, 2021. A couple of the provisions under these Rules may contravene principles laid out by the Supreme Court:
Appointment of the Administrative Member of the Central Administrative Tribunal as the Chairman
In case of the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT), the Rules specify that a person with at least three years of experience as the Judicial Member or Administrative Member may be appointed as the Chairman. This may violate the principles laid down by the past Supreme Court judgements.
The CAT supplants High Courts. In 1986, the Supreme Court stated that if an administrative tribunal supplants the High Courts, the office of the Chairman of the tribunal should be equated with that of the Chief Justice of the High Court. Therefore, the Chairman of the tribunal must be a current or former High Court Judge. Further, in 2019, the Supreme Court stated – “the knowledge, training, and experience of members or presiding officers of a tribunal must mirror, as far as possible, that of the Court it seeks to substitute”.
The Administrative Member of the CAT may be a person who has been an Additional Secretary to the central government or a central government officer with pay at least that of the Additional Secretary. Hence, the Administrative Member may not have the required judicial experience for appointment as the Chairman of CAT.
Leave Sanctioning Authority
The Rules specify that the central government will be the leave sanctioning authority for the Chairperson of tribunals, and Members (in case of absence of the Chairperson). In 2014, the Supreme Court specified that the central government (Executive) should not have any administrative involvement with the members of the tribunal as it may influence the independence and fairness of the tribunal members. In addition, it had observed that the Executive may be a litigant party and its involvement in administrative matters of tribunals may influence the fairness of the adjudication process. In judgements in 1997 and 2014, the Supreme Court recommended that the administration of all Tribunals should be under a nodal ministry such as the Law Ministry, and not the respective administrative ministry. In 2020, it recommended setting up of a National Tribunals Commission to supervise appointments and administration of Tribunals. The Rules are not in consonance with these recommendations.