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.
Discussion on the first no-confidence motion of the 17th Lok Sabha began today. No-confidence motions and confidence motions are trust votes, used to test or demonstrate the support of Lok Sabha for the government in power. Article 75(3) of the Constitution states that the government is collectively responsible to Lok Sabha. This means that the government must always enjoy the support of a majority of the members of Lok Sabha. Trust votes are used to examine this support. The government resigns if a majority of members support a no-confidence motion, or reject a confidence motion.
So far, 28 no-confidence motions (including the one being discussed today) and 11 confidence motions have been discussed. Over the years, the number of such motions has reduced. The mid-1960s and mid-1970s saw more no-confidence motions, whereas the 1990s saw more confidence motions.
Figure 1: Trust votes in Parliament
Note: *Term shorter than 5 years; **6-year term.
Source: Statistical Handbook 2021, Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs; PRS.
The no-confidence motion being discussed today was moved on July 26, 2023. A motion of no-confidence is moved with the support of at least 50 members. The Speaker has the discretion to allot time for discussion of the motion. The Rules of Procedure state that the motion must be discussed within 10 days of being introduced. This year, the no-confidence motion was discussed 13 calendar days after introduction. Since the introduction of the no-confidence motion on July 26, 12 Bills have been introduced and 18 Bills have been passed by Lok Sabha. In the past, on four occasions, the discussion on no-confidence motions began seven days after their introduction. On these occasions, Bills and other important issues were debated before the discussion on the no-confidence motion began.
Figure 2: Members rise in support of the motion of no-confidence in Lok Sabha