This article has been written by Shoronya Banerjee from Amity University, Kolkata. This article gives an overview of the Atomic Energy Act, 1962, focussing on some of its important provisions.
World War II had initiated the weapons program constructing a framework for peaceful uses of nuclear energy for instance in the generation of electricity, formulating medical techniques, manufacturing, and so on. But in 1945 the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan during the war also established a fear worldwide when the consequences of the bombing on human beings and nature were horrifying and witnessed by the world. A platform for the technology of generating nuclear energy was established with safeguards against the repercussions its misuse could bring in.
Time and again initiatives have been taken to constrain the proper use of nuclear energy worldwide as people fear the potential it has to cause a catastrophe globally with further technological development. Countries have come up with their legal framework to explain nuclear liability, provide a medium for people to avail compensation for the damages suffered by them from nuclear accidents, liability for third-party damage, and also set limitations and safeguards to work with nuclear energy and power. Whereas special legal rules are also required to encourage more industries for investing to facilitate the development of nuclear energy as along with its potential to cause a catastrophe it also has helped in generation of electricity, helping in the development of the medical sector, and so on.
The consequences of the nuclear devastation at Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 had greatly inspired India’s nuclear policy. In the face of the Cold War with the USA and USSR trying to negotiate with the whole world to come to terms with a policy of arms control, India too had to define its nuclear policies in relation to the possible framework of disarmament being decided by the two superpowers, USA and USSR. The American philanthropist and political consultant, Bernard Baruch had presented his plan in front of the United Nations Atomic Energy Commission (UNAEC) in 1946 which initiated the establishment of an International Atomic Development Authority (IADA) and recommended absolute control and regulation of all atomic activities worldwide.
The IADA would facilitate research of peaceful and constructive use of atomic energy and less dangerous nuclear activity would be done under license and inspection. India had not accepted the whole of the Baruch plans but Mrs Vijayalaxmi Pandit, the Indian delegate to the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) put forth the part of the proposal that India was agreeing to accept. India was completely against the international ownership of raw materials like uranium, etc. But it could consider the international ownership of non-fissile raw materials like oil, etc, for preventing the exploitation of national interest. India’s Nuclear policy was to be without adjustments and not with any of the sides during the Cold War.
Atomic Energy Act, 1962
India’s nuclear energy programme was established in 1948 with the Atomic Energy Bill introduced in the Constituent Assembly (Legislative) by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru who was concerned and wanted to prevent India from facing a third world war with nuclear arms and ammunitions. This bill promoted research in atomic energy and extending state ownership over atomic minerals like uranium and thorium. The Atomic Energy Act 1948 provided a groundwork to support India’s nuclear energy programme. This was followed by the establishment of the Atomic Energy Commission which would determine accumulations of atomic minerals with the help of mineral survey sections and train scientists to carry out better research work related to nuclear power and energy. With scientific developments and time the Atomic Energy Act, 1948 was replaced by the Atomic Energy Act, 1962. This was passed by both the houses of the Parliament and received President assent on 15th September 1962. This Act would control and regulate the use of atomic energy and channel its advantages towards the welfare of the people of the country along with facilitating progress and development.
The Atomic Energy Act enacted in 1962 had set its objectives for widely setting a path leading towards development in relation to the utilization of nuclear energy and to train scientists further for them to carry out more intricate research for the benefit and welfare of the nation. This Act took within its ambit the probability of all problems that could be the result of working with nuclear energy in the areas where production, development, and disposal of it would take place.
The Act seeks to provide standards of controlling radioactive substances and plants and measures to prevent radiation accidents, retain public safety, assure cautious disposal of radioactive wastes, and so on. Section 3 and 5 of the Act allows the establishment of State electricity boards and other corporations for controlling, safeguarding, and utilizing power resources to generate the electricity required to operate atomic power stations according to the process resolved by the Boards and Corporations working closely with it and entering into agreements related to supply of electricity needed. It also provides special provisions relating to control over radioactive substances, the authority to inspect, regulate, and maintain production and use of atomic energy, and so on.
Important provisions of the Act
The Atomic Energy Act, 1962 that replaced the Atomic Energy Act, 1948 provided a more comprehensive framework for supporting the nuclear policy in India. Some of the important provisions laid by this Act are:
Powers of the Central Government
- According to Section 3(a) and (b) of the Act, the Central Government is conferred with the power of producing, manufacturing, using, and disposing of atomic energy and radioactive substances subsequently. The Central Government or any authority related to it can carry out research related to atomic energy and anything related to it. They can also manufacture any article along with the radioactive substance that would be required in the process of producing, developing, or using atomic energy.
- Section 3(C) puts forth what “restricted information” constitutes under the Act. It includes information like location, usage, quantity, way of purchase, disposal, and so on about substances as recommended by the Act which was essential in the use and study of atomic energy; extraction and manufacturing of fissile materials; theory and design for operating nuclear reactors, and so on.
- A “prohibited area” as per Section 3(d) incorporates areas suitable to carry out research, design, and development work for production, treatment, application, and disposal of atomic energy and radiation substances.
- The Central Government under Section 3(e) is authorized to manage and control radioactive substances and subsequent plants generating radiation for preventing hazards, securing the safety of the public, ensuring the disposal of the radioactive wastes, and so on.
Provisions regulating and controlling the discovery of uranium or thorium, disposal of uranium or mining or concentration of substances containing uranium
- Section 4 of the Act puts forth that whoever before or after the Act, discovers or discovered uranium or thorium in any place located in India in a matter of three matters after the commencement of the Act or the discovery of it must notify the Central Government or an authority set up by the Central Government of it in writing. Even a person who finds and believes that uranium and thorium could exist and occur in a place in India, he/she must inform the Central Government or the assigned authority about it as soon as possible.
- If the Central Government believes and is sure about a person mining or about to mine a substance is uranium which could be expected as isolated or extracted, or is pursuing the treatment or concentration of a substance that is uranium or expected to be uranium by any ‘physical, chemical or metallurgical process,’ then it can direct that person to conduct such operations under the guidance of the government or by adhering to the rules set by it, or it can forbid the person completely from conducting such operations under Section 5 of the Act.
- The minerals and materials that uranium constitutes in its natural form cannot be disposed of without the notification or permission of the Central Government in writing under Section 6(1) of the Act. If a person produces a mineral or material as mentioned in Section 6(1), then by the Central Government’s notice that becomes the property of the Central Government and has to be given to the government on time. The cost of its production is according to Section 21 of the Act.
The authority to work on the discovery of minerals
- The Central Government under Section 9(1) can conduct any work under or over the surface of any land as it deems fit for discovering minerals in its natural state or in the form of disposed waste material.
- Before considering the powers under Section 9(1) of the Act, the Central Government has to serve the owner or occupier of that land with a notice clearly specifying about the nature of work and the extent of land that it would be carried over, within the time frame of twenty-eight days where suitable objections can be raised.
- Compensation has to be paid according to section 21 for any damage or depreciation in the value of the land or property on which the work is carried on.
Controlling the production and use of atomic energy
- The Central Government under Section 14(1) can make rules and order to prohibit except if a license is granted, the work of a mine or mineral specified in the order. It can also stop the ‘acquisition, production, possession, use, disposal, export or import’ of substances prescribed by the Central Government, or any minerals or substances mentioned in the rules which according to the Central Government can be used to acquire prescribed substances, any plant constructed to facilitate the development, manufacturing and utilization of atomic energy, and so on.
- The rules under this section indicate that when a person has been granted a license under this section, then whatever information he has in his possession regarding it, that falls within the ambit of restricted information. The extent of the area considered under the license has to be regarded as a prohibited area.
- Requirements and prohibitions on employers employed persons and such related persons are laid by this Act as notified by Section 14(2)(f).
- Supplementary provisions like rules for inspection, sealing of premises, seizing, retaining or disposing of articles indicating contravention of the rules under the Act, and so are all specified.
- The Central Government can make rules regarding any place or premises where radioactive substances can potentially be manufactured, mined, stored or used or with regard to a radiation generating plant, or appliance as well to prevent injuries, health hazards of people employed at such places, for securing any radioactive waste products, setting qualification requirements for people being employed at such places, and so on under Section 17.
- The Central Government with regard to the transport of any radioactive substance or any such substance as prescribed under the Act can make rules preventing such injuries and health hazards for it being dangerous to health.
Offences and Penalties
- Section 24 of the Act lays down what according to the Act constitutes an offence and what is the possible penalty that one is subjected to for committing it. Section 24(1) puts forth certain offences punishable with imprisonment extending to 5 years and fine, or both:
- Whoever violates Section 14 any condition under that section against which a license is granted.
- For defying rules under Section 17 or any condition imposed by such rules.
- Obstructing authority from exercising powers as under Section 17(4).
- Infringing Section 18(2).
- Section 24(2) puts forth offences punishable with a term of imprisonment extending up to 1 year, or fine, or both:
- Whoever is delivered with a notice or subjected to conditions under Section 5 of the Act and fails to adhere to it.
- Whoever does not abide by the notice given under Section 7 of the Act and makes false statements regarding such a notice.
- Anyone who interferes and prevents authority from exercising power under Sections 8 and 9 of the Act.
- When a company goes against this Act and commits an offence, whoever at that time was in charge of the conduct of the business of the company would be held guilty for committing such an offence and would be punished accordingly, unless such a person can successfully prove that the commission of the offence was beyond his knowledge and he had taken every step to prevent such an offence, then he would not be liable to any punishment. On the other hand, as per Section 25(2) of the Act, when an offence is committed by a company under this Act, if the consent or neglect of a director, manager, secretary or someone can be proven then that person is also punishable under this Act.
- Offences under Section 26(1) of the Act are cognizable under the Code of Criminal Procedure 1898, but no action can be taken until a written complaint is filed by an authority who has the power to enter and inspect for a violation under Sections 8, 14 or 17 or any rules and orders under it, or by the complaint of a person authorized by the Central Government regarding any contravention under the Act. Contravention of Section 18 cannot be accounted for until the Attorney General of India’s consent is received as per Section 26(2).
It was seen in the case of Dr. Buddhi Kota Subbarao vs Mr. K. Parasaran & Ors, the applicant who was a captain in the Indian Navy had taken voluntary retirement and was travelling to the USA on 30th May 1988. On his way, he was arrested and taken to the Sahar police station. The retired captain was allegedly carrying atomic and defence secrets. All his applications for bail were rejected continuously. The consent and authorization of the then-Attorney General of India, Mr K. Parasaran and Chief Vigilance Officer of the Department of Atomic Energy, Mr S.K. Bhandarkar, respondent 1 and respondent 2 respectively, the applicant in consideration to Section 26(2) of the Atomic Energy Act, 1962, prosecuting him for the various offences under Section 3 and 6 of the Official Secrets Act and Sections 18 and 19 of the Atomic Energy Act, 1962.
Following this, the applicant had filed a criminal writ petition in the High Court against the framing of charges and during that time he had also filed a criminal miscellaneous petition in the High court against the Attorney General of India and the Chief Vigilance Officer of the Department of Atomic Energy for framing him in a ‘fraud’ manner. But it was held by the court that the allegations of framing charges in a ‘fraud’ manner were without any evidence and foundation. The petitioner had filed one petition after the other even after the order of discharge was made in his favour. The petition under Section 340 CrPC against the Attorney General of India and the Chief Vigilance Officer was just a medium for carrying on with the litigation. The court had closed down on the applicant’s petition and framed his application to be based on a misinterpretation of laws and facts and thereafter, his petition was dismissed.
Over the years, India’s power industry has become an essential part of the Indian economy, driving the economy towards social changes and progress. The Atomic Energy Act of 1962, has vested the role for nuclear power development on the Central Government, whereas the Department of Atomic Energy establishes and regulates nuclear power plants. The electrification of rural areas is a major goal for the State for ensuring progress. The Electricity (Supply) Act, 1948, was transformed to provide an establishment for generation companies under the Central Government. The recommendations of the Meckoni Committee in 1981 and Raja Ramanna Committee in 1997 paved the way for showcasing the real requirement for an independent statutory regulatory board on the terms of the Atomic Energy Act and also called for a ‘considerable broadening of the functions and responsibilities’ of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB). Yet the AERB has to face challenges every day about forming regulatory strategies for nuclear and radiation facilities, maintaining nuclear and radiation safety and security standards, and so on.
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