Germany opts out of Bhopal waste disposal plan
The German government development agency GIZ says it is pulling out of a project to incinerate 350 tons of toxic waste from a chemical plant in Bhopal, the site of the world's worst industrial disaster.
In July, the Indian cabinet cleared the plan to dispose of solid waste from the defunct pesticide plant of Union Carbide Corp in the capital of Madhya Pradesh, where a gas leak in 1984 killed at least 15,000 people.
In a letter to Finance Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram, GIZ said it had reviewed its engagement following a "negative" media campaign in Germany that depicted the project as being against the interests of the German public.
"We have made an assessment of the situation in Germany and decided that it would be in the best interest of strong Indo-German cooperation not to pursue this project offer further on," the letter from the GIZ said.
The agency said it had been interested in supporting the project but "due to some German media misrepresentation, GIZ regrets to withdraw."
India was to pay GIZ 250 million rupees (4.5 million dollars) to have the waste, much of which is pesticides and heavy metals, transported to Germany where it would then be incinerated.
German media recently quoted a GIZ document that said the only "danger" in proceeding with the project was the reaction of the German public when they came to know about the plans of waste disposal in Germany.
One outlet speculated that the disposal of 350 tons was just the beginning of a much larger and lucrative waste disposal deal.
The waste is not connected with the release of deadly methyl isocyanate gas that claimed thousands of lives, but comes from the earlier dumping of chemicals from 1969 to 1984.
Activists claim 1 million tons of waste are lying at the abandoned factory site, contaminating soil and groundwater, and damaging the health of more than 40,000 people who live nearby.
The GIZ decision is a setback for India's plans to dispose of the waste, which have already been delayed despite deadlines set by the Supreme Court.
Madhya Pradesh Gas Relief and Rehabilitation Minister Babulal Gaur said he was not aware of GIZ's decision.
"There would be delays if this is correct ... but there is no danger from the waste, it has been on the site for over 25 years," Gaur said.
Activists in Bhopal said US-based Dow Chemical Co, which took over Union Carbide in 2001, is responsible for removing the waste.