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German dissent stalls toxic waste plan

The Union Government's attempt to transport around 350 tonnes of chemical waste from Bhopal to Germany for incineration has run into trouble because of protests in Germany.

delhi Updated: Jul 12, 2012 01:57 IST
Chetan Chauhan
Chetan Chauhan
Hindustan Times

The Union government's attempt to transport around 350 tonnes of chemical waste from Bhopal to Germany for incineration has run into trouble because of protests in Germany.

Initially, the German Agency for Technical Cooperation (GIZ) had proposed to burn the toxic waste from Bhopal in northern German city of Hamburg. But, the protests have forced the GIZ to look for alternate sites.

"We have 10 to 12 incineration plants to burn the toxic waste," GIZ India Director Hans-H. Dube told HT over telephone from Germany, admitting that they had initially proposed Hamburg for incineration. "The other site will be finalized after inviting bids".

The Union Cabinet in first week of July had sanctioned Rs 25 crore for air-lifting 350 tonnes of waste at the Union Carbide factory in Bhopal, where thousands of people had died after a gas leakage in 1984.

The decision came after the government's bid to incinerate the toxic waste at different places within India such as Pithampur in Madhya Pradesh (MP) and in Gujarat failed because of local protests. Finally, the Madhya Pradesh government approached GIZ, who agreed to dispose the as per United Nation rules and the proposal was mooted before the Union Cabinet.

The decision has, however, received stiff resistance from German Non-Government Organisations such as Greenpeace and a German nature conservancy group, BUND (Bund für Umwelt und Naturschutz Deutschland), who want the waste to be disposed in India itself.

"It must be disposed of locally," Claudia Baitinger, a hazardous waste expert at BUND, was quoted by Deutsche Welle, Germany's international broadcaster. Greenpeace had opposed transporting toxic waste halfway around the world and said India should develop technology to dispose toxic waste. Several local green groups have also written to the German government protesting the decision.

Terming the protests as a non-issue, Dube said three million tonnes of toxic waste are imported for incineration in Germany every year and 350 tonnes of Bhopal waste was not even chemically hazardous. "After 27 years, nothing hazardous of the Bhopal tragedy is left in the waste," he said.

The protests and increasing pressure appears to be having its impact with the Germany government yet to give its consent for transfer. A senior environment ministry official confirmed that an approval from the German authorities to transfer Bhopal waste has not been received even though GIZ had assured in May 2012 that it will come in four to five days. The Cabinet, however, approved the transfer on the ground that GIZ was a government agency.

That is not end of the problem. As per German laws, the toxic waste cannot be transferred until the German district administration agrees. After Hamburg's reluctance getting approval from any other local administration would not be easy.

The environment ministry, on its part, is willing to change the Hazardous Wastes (Management, Handling and Transboundary Movement) Rules,2009, which prohibits import or export of toxic waste. "We are willing for one time exception provided German authorities approve the transfer," a ministry official said.

First Published: Jul 11, 2012 21:54 IST