Did Somnath Chatterjee Keep the Faith?

Subhas Chandra Pattanayak

Former Loksabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee’s book – Keeping the Faith: Memoirs of a Parliamentarian – was released on 21 August 2010 by Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, to whom it is “an important contribution to our political history”.

But did he really keep the faith?

Documents available suggest that he did not. We shall have to recollect his conduct as the Speaker of Loksabha in context of the controversial act that he calls “keeping the faith” to see how he did not keep the faith.

In an INSIGHT BRIEFING report, the World Nuclear News had put on records the cardinal prerequisites for US-India nuclear deal. One of these cardinal prerequisites had made it a “must” for Indian Parliament to “agree to the text” of ‘Henry J. Hyde United States-India Peaceful Atomic Energy Cooperation Act of 2006’, which is called the treaty for the Nuke deal. Chatterjee knew it. Even on April 23, 2008, Loksabha leader Pranab Mukherjee was on records to have said, “Parliament has the real authority to say yes or no to a treaty”. So, it was necessary for the Speaker to take a vote on the “text” of the treaty to ascertain exactly how many finally said “yes” and how many finally said “no” to the “text” of the treaty. But the “text” was not circulated to the members and the House did never debate on the “text” of the same. Chatterjee as the Speaker rendered this prerequisite role of Parliament in the Loksabha inconsequential by taking “sense” of the House that benefited the USA to the total disadvantage of the unprivileged tax payers of India.

Could it ever be considered “keeping the faith?”

Political History of free India will never forget to record this conduct of Chatterjee as a breech of faith, a misuse of parliamentary power and a treachery against Indian democracy, if he fails to justify as to why he did not conduct the Loksabha into debate on the “text” of the treaty and to agree to that “text”, which was a “must” necessity.

As regards the conscience aspect, much ahead of publication of his book, we had a discussion in these pages on 13 November 2008 that was captioned: Somnath Chatterjee: Individual Versus Collective Conscience. The same is yet relevant. We have no hesitation in saying that his harping on conscience in his released venture, besides being a method of self-glorification, is a ploy to mislead the people.

The book has been released at a time when diversion of public attention from the real cause of the Communists’ objection to Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Bill, hereinafter called the Liability Bill, was essential for the Americans as well as for Prime Minister Singh.

Singh is determined to ensure that American suppliers of rotten reactors are saved from liabilities in case of radiation. The original draft of the Liability Bill is suggestive of this.

Left’s vehement objection to this evil design had forced the cabinet to review the Bill and BJP, which was the first to collaborate with the US design when Vajpayee was the PM, had agreed to support the Bill after a drama of demand for shifting of liability limits.

Only the Left had been harping on scrapping of cap on liability.

The Bill aims at making Indian Exchequer pay for damage done by any Reactor beyond certain amount that the operator would initially bear.

Left wants the suppliers and operators of the Reactors to bear the cost of damage, not the people of India.

The Left has always opposed the evil design of Singh in forcing India into the poisonous labyrinth of nuke deal with America and this was the basis of the rift between the Congress and the Left, not the Communists’ king-maker-ego as Chatterjee has alleged.

Singh knows that the Left stand was too strong to overcome and hence a new occasion was needed for him to divert public attention from the Left’s principled opposition to the Liability Bill. Chatterjee provided him with the same.

His speech on the occasion was concentrated on blackening the left in the matter of the nuke deal when he was chairing the Loksabha.

Prakash Karat and his comrades posing as “king makers” were sure of death of the nuke deal as Singh was dependent on them to survive in power; but as the later went ahead with the deal, Karat took it as an “insult” that led to withdrawal of left support from the government, Chatterjee has said while maintaining that the CPI (M) wanted him to resign, but he refused to oblige on conscience ground so that the faith of the nation in the Speaker could be kept.

One, who has watched Chatterjee’s sagacious participation in the debates as a member of the Parliament would certainly be shocked to see such a misleading statement emanating from the veteran Marxist. The nation has seen how principled and appropriate the steps of the Left against the nuke deal were.

The Scenario Then Prevalent

Bush administration was in utmost predicament over alarming accumulation of nuclear waste, reprocessing of which was harmful. Since 1977, as a matter of policy, USA had forbidden reprocessing of used fuel and was treating it all as high-level waste, the final disposal of which in a deep geological repository was the government’s responsibility.

The utilities were storing their used fuel on their respective sites awaiting the Federal Department of Energy for final disposal in a geological repository; but such a repository was not available as a result of which the DoE defaulted on its 1998 deadline to start accepting used fuel, which was putting pressure on storage space at some power plants.

By early 2004, some 50,000 tones of civil used fuel and about 8000 tones of government used fuel and 4667 tones of separated high-level wastes from 126 sites in 39 US states was awaiting disposal.

Emission of CO2 from energy use at 5.9 billion tones in 2005 alone had drowned the people in such tension that the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) had to contrive ways to assuage their apprehension by going to the extent of branding US Congress’ setting of repository capacity at Yucca Mountain as “arbitrary”. The US Congress had, in 1982, set the repository capacity here at 70,000 tones. But the EPRI claimed that at least 286,000 tones and possibly 628,000 tones of used fuel and high-level wastes could be reposed there. This repository was envisaged to operate from 2010.

Thus the US government was not able to dispose of the used fuel/nuclear waste and the people were deeply tensed.

On the other hand, most of the reactors had crossed their normal life of 40 years. A few of them, such as Fort St Vrain, Big Rock Point and Shoreham had been totally dismantled to release the site for unrestricted use and many others were in various stages of dismantling. USA was getting only 19% of its energy from nuclear Reactors as against 55% from thermal plants, 19% from gas plants and 7% from hydro plants. She was in dire need of more generation from the nuclear Reactors and therefore replacement of the old Reactors by New Generation Reactors was essential. But dismantling and / or safe storing of the old rotten Reactors was not the solution. Solution lies in total disposal. Therefore Bush administration was eager to export away the old Reactors and nuclear wastes and used fuels to trapped countries so that the old sites could be available for New Generation Reactors when the USA traders would bag a “bonanza” by way of export. The then PM Atal Behari Vajpayee had come near the trap; but after the people threw him out of Power, it was easy for USA to trap India through Prime Minister Singh.

It was correctly considered a curse for India by the Communists.

Political history of India would certainly take into accounts the role the Left had played vis-à-vis the conspiracy the Congress had indulged in and then the conduct of Chatterjee as the Speaker in matter of the nuke deal in the Loksabha would come out of the eclipse of wordy acrobatics that his released book has reason to be noted for.

India A Victim of Betrayal

Now India stands a victim of betrayal. The Liability Bill has been adopted by the Loksabha even as the people of the country have not known of details of the Reactors to be commissioned and fuels/ wastes to be used and have not been given any opportunity to apply their mind to the capping of the suppliers/traders’ liability, when it is they, who would die and suffer the damage in case of any accident.

The Parliament as well as the people are kept in dark about the Reactors and fuels to be imported from USA when that country’s interest lies in disposal through export of the rotten and over-lived old-generation Reactors and fuels, which the USA, despite having banned reprocessing of since 1977, is yet unable to finally dispose of due to unavailability of geological repository.

If these rotten Reactors and dangerous wastes are used in India, there is every possibility of serious radiation and consequent mass destruction. Hence protecting the suppliers from liability and capping liability of the operators was essential in American interest. And, for this, the Liability bill was unavoidably a must for benefit of the shady dealers. The left parties’ opposition to this foul play was sure to put hurdles on the design of the USA lobbyists.

Hence two strategies were adopted to overcome the left opposition. Firstly, the country was to be aggressively misled.

Chatterjees book and launching thereof by the Prime Minister in company of Sonia et al whose only concentration was on convincing the public that the Left opposition to the nuke deal was anti-progress because India needs the Reactors for power generation, read in the light of the timing that preceded the Parliament’s business on the Liability bill, makes one understand the first strategy.

And, the second strategy was to mesmerize the MPs by manifold rise in their salaries and allowances to such extent that psychologically they should be inclined to cooperate with the Government.

As we watched, MPs did not mind if they were not to express their minds or were restricted to express their minds in a minute or two on the Bill that was designed to affect India for all time to come. None of the non-left MPs preferred a referendum when all of them knew that the people of India shall have to bear the burden of damage that the imported reactors and used fuels may at anytime cause.

No wonder the principled voice of the left has been lost and the Liability Bill has been passed in the Loksabha.

This bad day would not have come if Chatterjee had kept the faith bestowed upon the Speaker. He was empowered to direct the House to agree to the “text” of the treaty which he failed.

Despite the book, he is yet to explain his position.

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