Proposal to airlift Bhopal waste to Germany in jeopardy
The Indian government’s plan to airlift Bhopal's toxic waste to Germany for incineration seems to be in jeopardy after details of the proposal were leaked in the German media. German development agency Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) is in talks with the government to dispose of the 350 tonnes of waste lying at the abandoned Union Carbide factory premises. “The leaking of this information has led to a serious debate on whether Germany should be helping India or not,” a representative of GIZ said on September 5.
Sources in GIZ maintained that Indian government has failed to act appropriately and that the information leak has put GIZ's name at stake. They said it has prompted activists and environmentalists to question German government's decision of incinerating the waste in their country. “The process has gone out of control,” said a source. Indian officials said they cannot discuss the matter.
The hazardous waste lying at the factory for the past 28 years is a constant reminder of the world's biggest Industrial disaster when methyl isocyanate gas leaked out of the Union Carbide factory in December 1984, leaving thousands dead and many more damaged for generations. Following the Indian apex court's orders, and a few unsuccessful attempts to dispose of the waste at Indian facilities in the past five years, the GIZ's proposal to incinerate the same in Germany was approved by the Union cabinet earlier this year. But the final contract between the Government of India and GIZ is yet to be signed.
Hans Hermann Dube, regional director with GIZ said: “We are going to meet with the Indian ambassador to Germany tomorrow (September 6) and then take a final decision. But this leaking of information has made the German public question why Germany should help India.” Subsequently, after meeting the Indian ambassador at Berlin, a company official said the meeting went very well and that the company would wait for a few days to arrive at a final decision.
German media reports mentioned the details of the contract under discussion between GIZ and the Indian government. The reports claimed the information was received from the Government of India and gives details of the technical proposal submitted to Bhopal Gas Tragedy and rehabilitation department of the Madhya Pradesh government. This proposal is the basis on which the contract agreement between GIZ and Government of India is being drawn up.
Down To Earth (DTE) has a copy of the proposal. The project is an ambitious task, especially given its political dimension in India and in Germany, says the proposal. The technical part of the project is manageable because, according to the relevant information, the waste is not very problematic and can be managed. The problem is in sending the waste to Europe for final disposal. Air transportation is a very expensive undertaking and not without certain risks, it adds.
It also states that the project should not be implemented in a hurry. “The only uncertainty is the reaction of the German people when they are getting the information (sic) about the intended plan to dispose of the Bhopal waste in one of the disposal facilities in Germany,” it states.
Official sources informed DTE that the discussions with GIZ regarding the final contract have been very troubled and heated as both parties have failed to agree on a number of issues. Some kind of consensus was reached regarding these concerns at the last meeting. The government is closer to signing the deal to dispose of Bhopal waste) but the contract is still not signed, and thus not final. An official with the department of chemicals and petrochemicals declined to comment on when the agreement would be finalised.
In the meeting, the department of chemicals and petrochemicals under the Union Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilisers, was designated as the nodal agency to follow-up on all the communication and other processes before and during the removal and disposal of the waste. When questioned about the German media reports, the secretary of the department, K Jose Cyriac, said, “I have no information about the media reports or the GIZ response. The subject is confidential. We are trying to finalise the contract.”