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India Lower House Okays Nuclear Bill

India, armed with nuclear weapons and developing its atomic power industry, passed a bill in its lower house of parliament on Thursday that bans illegal proliferation of nuclear technology.

India and its rival Pakistan stunned the world in 1998 by carrying out tit-for-tat nuclear tests, drawing sanctions by the United States on both South Asian powers.

"We have adopted the most responsible policy on sensitive and dual-use nuclear and missile-related technologies," Foreign Minister Natwar Singh said before lawmakers passed the measure, The Weapons of Mass Destruction and Their Delivery Systems (Prohibition of Unlawful Activities) Bill, by a voice vote.

"We are committed to ensure that these do not fall into the wrong hands, especially the terrorists and non-state actors."

Neither India nor Pakistan have signed the 1970 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).

India has been seeking to develop its civilian nuclear industry with Russian and US assistance. Currently, only about three percent of India's total power requirement is met by nuclear energy which it aims to increase to around 25 percent by 2050.

The bill, which also bans the transfer of biological and chemical weapons and their delivery systems, says any person who indulges in nuclear proliferation would face at least five years in prison, which could be extended to a life sentence.

The proposed legislation, which must pass the upper house of parliament before it becomes law, covers Indians in India and abroad and foreigners residing in India.

Jane's Strategic Weapon Systems estimates that India has between 100-150 nuclear warheads and Pakistan 25-50.

On Thursday, India tested its nuclear-capable Prithvi short-range missile, seen as a deterrent against Pakistan which also has missiles able to carry nuclear warheads.

Last September, Washington lifted decades-old curbs on equipment for India's nuclear power facilities and space program, a sign of increasingly warm ties between the two major democracies.

But irritants remain. In last September, the US administration imposed sanctions on two Indian scientists for alleged nuclear cooperation with Iran, resulting in New Delhi protesting the move.

(Chinadaily.com via agencies May 13, 2005)

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