By Rajeev Sharma
INDIA’S NUKE LIABILITY LAWS
All is not well in the India-US bilateral relations, though the two sides are officially pretending otherwise. The biggest stumbling block between the two countries right now is India’s civil nuclear liability law which was the focus of talks between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and US President Barack Obama on the sidelines of ASEAN summit in Bali on November 18. Singh did a lot of explaining to Obama on the issue but the Americans remained unconvinced.
The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government had quietly notified the implementation rules for the civil nuclear liability law on November 16 ahead of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s meeting with US President Barack Obama. The rules relating to Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act provide the nuclear plant operator the right to recourse for the period for which the supplier of equipment has taken liability for patent or latent defects or sub-standard services under a contract.
India’s new rules implementing the act effectively limit the liability on foreign suppliers to just below $300 million and impose time constraints on claimants seeking compensation. Companies like GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy and Westinghouse. These companies argue, and not unjustifiably, that international norms put the onus on the operator of nuclear power plants to maintain safety not the suppliers of equipment. The US and many other countries have been pressing India to bring its civil nuclear liability law in conformity with international conventions and reduce the heavy burden on nuclear plant operators in India.
The November 15 successful test launch of Agni IV nuclear-ready 3500-km-range surface-to-surface missile should be seen as part of a process and an unfinished business of the Indian missile programme. While Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) Chief VK Saraswat may be justified in comparing this missile with the very best in the world – though only in terms of technology, not range because AGNI IV is not an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) – and superior to the entire existing missile arsenal of Pakistan, India has still a long way to go.
With regard to Pakistan, India already has a proven military advantage in terms of capacity, firepower, manpower and technology. But India has to develop its military power keeping in mind the most potent potential enemy with which it has already fought one war – China. India is still way behind China in virtually every manner militarily, including the missile programme. China is a formidable enemy that the Indian military establishment must be wary of and the Indian military preparations must be done keeping in mind China, not Pakistan. New Delhi has indeed been quietly working on the China threat and the Ministry of Defence is preparing an ambitious $ 12 billion (about Rs 60,000 crore) plan for additional deployment of as many as one lakh soldiers along the Line of Actual Control.
There is no doubt that Agni IV will be an effective deterrent for China as well. Tessy Thomas, Project Director AGNI-4, has gone on record saying that Agni IV, which has capability to carry strategic warheads for the defence forces, has provided a fantastic deterrence to the country and it will be produced in numbers and delivered to the armed forces as early as possible. Tessy, who is now better known as ‘Agni Putri’ (Daughter of Fire) said the DRDO has produced and proven many new state of the art technologies in Agni IV like Composite Rocket Motors, very high accuracy Ring Laser Gyro based Inertial Navigation System, Micro Navigation System, Digital Controller System and very powerful onboard computer system. Despite all these glowing accomplishments, India is not yet there when it comes to acquiring a strategic equilibrium with China.
The gap between Indian and Chinese missile systems is expected to be substantially reduced in February 2012 when India plans to test launch the 5000-km range Agni V which will be a beginning of India’s forays into the elite club of ICBM technology.
SAARC not EU
The 17th SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) summit got over in Addu, Maldives (November 10-11, 2011). Its main theme was ‘Building Bridges’ and in keeping with this theme the Addu summit came up with a slew of agreements aimed at improving intra-SAARC connectivity, trade, cooperation in key issues like education and tourism. A major highlight, from the business point of view, was that SAARC decided to consider reducing non-tariff barriers and ad valorem duties to promote freer trade. India has already done its bit by announcing that the sensitive list for Least Developed Countries under SAFTA now stands pruned from 480 tariff lines to just 25.
The Addu Declaration adopted a 20-point charter, all points focusing on connectivity among SAARC nations in as diverse areas as air travel, land travel, railways, shipping, trade, investment, electricity, climate change, crime control, counter terrorism, education, media and tourism. Some of the important areas of convergences that emerged from the Addu summit are as follows: (i) conducting as early as possible a demonstration run of a container train (Bangladesh-India-Nepal); (ii) concluding the Regional Railways Agreement; (iii) convening an Expert Group Meeting on the Motor Vehicles Agreement before the next session of the SAARC Council of Ministers; and (iv) resolving the operational issues related to the SAARC Food Bank by the next session of the Council of Ministers.