Bhopal waste disposal: government dithers over finalising contract with German company

Madhya Pradesh government unhappy with clauses in proposed contract

By Moyna
Published: Saturday 18 August 2012

It's been over two months since a Group of Ministers at the Centre approved the proposal to airlift Bhopal's toxic waste to Germany. But there is still uncertainty over disposing of the waste lying at the abandoned Union Carbide factory as various government agencies “read between the lines” of the proposal submitted by German development agency, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), to incinerate the waste. It is learnt that that the Madhya Pradesh government is jittery about certain provisions in the proposal. One of these pertains to extended liability of the Madhya Pradesh government for the waste until such time that it gets incinerated.

On Friday (August 17), the department of chemicals and petrochemicals held a meeting to discuss the finer details of the German proposal to dispose of the 350 metric tonnes of toxic waste. The meeting was attended by officials of the ministry of chemicals and fertilisers, the Madhya Pradesh state government, Union environment ministry, foreign affairs ministry and representatives of GIZ, which is offering to dispose of the waste. The meeting went on till late in the night and has been rescheduled for August 22.

A J V Prasad, joint secretary looking after chemicals and petrochemicals, refused to comment. Vinod Babu of Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) said the details could not be discussed as the matter is still under review. But GIZ's regional manager, Hans-Hermann Dube, told Down To Earth (DTE) that it was a very positive meeting and that “both sides are working productively to take this proposal to its final conclusion.” When asked if any of the provisions of the proposal  had been changed or altered, Dube said the proposal remains as it was. “Ninety-five per cent of the contract has been agreed upon, and to finalise it we will be meeting again next Wednesday.”

Stumbling blocks: extended liability, arbitration

GIZ had presented a proposal to the Madhya Pradesh government in June after which it was approved by the Group of Ministers constituted to look into all matters concerning the 28 year old Bhopal gas disaster case. But the agreement for disposing of the waster at an estimated cost of Rs 24.56 crore is yet to be signed and finalised.  Some of the contentious provisions in the proposed contract include the extended liability of the Madhya Pradesh government which would remain the owner of the waste till it is incinerated. The state government has been made responsible for the waste since Union Carbide was dissolved and its parent company Dow Chemicals is yet to be held accountable. In case of an accident, the state would be responsible for any damage. Karuna Nundy, senior advocate representing the Bhopal survivors in the Supreme Court, said that “the government has raised concern regarding arbitration and liability.” The GIZ proposal stated in case of any dispute the matter would be dealt with under German law and not Indian law, Nundy explains.

The GIZ proposal came close on the heels of the apex court order in May this year, directing the government to take immediate steps to dispose of the waste. A final decision on the matter was scheduled for July, following which the Madhya Pradesh government asked for two extensions to submit the final proposal.

The most recent extension of three weeks was granted on August 3. As the court deadline draws closer, the government is now keen to finalise the agreement between GIZ and Madhya Pradesh government, but “finer details are yet to be ironed out,” said Babu of CPCB.


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