Comptroller and Auditor General’s (CAG) Report on AERB interpreted the Atomic Energy Act incorrectly

By Dr K S Parthasarathy

Former Secretary, Atomic Energy Regulatory Board

The recent  report of the  Comptroller and Auditor General ( CAG) on the activities of  the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) incorrectly interpreted   provisions regarding fines  in the Atomic Energy Act.  The report  stated that the maximum amount of fines (up to Rs 500/-) were too low to serve as deterrents against offences and contraventions related to nuclear and radiation facilities which involve substantial risks.

This conclusion  is wrong;  safety violations  of  the Atomic Energy Act are punishable  with imprisonment for a term which may extend to five years, or with fine, or with both.

Presently, I do not want to make comments on other parts of  the CAG  report  which requires detailed review and study.

In 1984, during the first discussion we had  among the handful of scientists and engineers who joined the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board ,  an officer drew our attention to the punishment for violations of the provisions of the Atomic Energy Act 1962.

As CAG report noted now, we also discovered the sub-section 30(3) of the Atomic Energy Act,which stated that Rules made under this Act may provide that a contravention of the rules shall, save as otherwise expressly provided in this Act, be punishable with fine, which may extend to five hundred rupees”.

 

We concluded unanimously just as CAG report did now, that the maximum amount of  fines were too low  to serve as deterrents.

Our “Eureka” moments and the glee of discovery were short-lived when one of the more alert officers discovered  the words save as otherwise expressly provided in this Act, in the same sub -section  quoted  in CAG report. The Audit team of CAG appears to have missed the importance of these words.

We found that  Section 24  has expressly made provisions for just and reasonable punishment for serious violations. Section 30(3) appears to refer to minor administrative lapses. Such provisions are available in most of the Acts

Section 24 on  Offences and Penalties states  that persons violating rules made under Section 17 (Special Provisions at to Safety) shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to five years, or with fine, or with both. This is consistent with other similar legislation.

Violators may attract the same punishment, if they obstruct any person authorized by the Central Government under sub-section (4) of Section 17 in the exercise of powers of inspection under that sub-section.

CAG’s observation on fines for violations under the Atomic Energy Act  got wide publicity. The statement  that  the fine for a safety violation is a measly  Rs 500/- can obviously and rightly excite raw emotions.

Not surprisingly media reacted. However none looked at the Atomic Energy Act.

Shri Pradeep Thakur, a Times of India columnist wrote thus:

“In case of a nuclear accident in India at present, the maximum fine that can be imposed by the regulator on an offending nuclear plant is Rs 500” (The Times of India August 23, 2012).

“CAG brings to light the meagre fine of just Rs 500 imposed on the defaulter in case of violation of any safety rules under the Atomic Energy Act”. (Down to Earth, August 23, 2012).

The  CAG Report is  presently with each House of Parliament.

I have included relevant extracts of the Atomic Energy Act 1962 as an annexure. You may, if you so desire,  access the full text of the Atomic Energy Act 1962 at:

http://www.aerb.gov.in/cgi-bin/actsrules/aea.asp

Annexure

Extracts from the Atomic Energy Act 1962

Section 24.

Offences and Penalties

(1) Whoever –
(a) contravenes any order made under section 14 or any condition subject to which a licence is granted under that section; or
(b) contravenes any rules made under section 17 or any requirement, prohibition or restriction imposed under any such rule; or
(c) obstructs any person authorized by the Central Government under sub-section (4) of section 17 in the exercise of powers under that sub-section; or
(d) contravenes sub-section (2) of section 18;
shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to five years, or with fine, or with both.
(2) Whoever –
(a) fails to comply with any notice served on him under section 5 or with any terms and conditions that may be imposed on him under that section; or
(b) fails to comply with any notice served on him under section 7 or knowingly makes any untrue statement in any return or statement made in pursuance of any such notice; or
(c) obstructs any person or authority in the exercise of powers under section 8 or 9; or
(d) contravenes any other provision of this Act or any order made there under;
shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year, or with fine or with both.

Section 26.

    Cognizance of offences
(1) All offences under this Act shall be cognizable under the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898, but no action shall be taken in respect of any person for any offence under this Act except on the basis of a written complaint made –
(a) in respect of contravention of section 8, 14 or 17 or any rule or order made there under, by the person authorized to exercise powers of entry and inspection;
(b) in respect of any other contravention, by a person duly authorized to make such complaints by the Central Government.
(2) Proceedings in respect of contravention of section 18 shall not be instituted except with the consent of the Attorney General of India.

Section

30.

                  Power to make rules
(3) Rules made under this Act may provide that a contravention of the rules shall, save as otherwise expressly provided in this Act be punishable, with fine which may extend to five hundred rupees.
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About ksparthasarathy

I am a former Secretary of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board. I am a former Raja Ramanna Fellow in the Department of Atomic Energy. Free lance journalism is my hobby
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