It’s back to square one in the mission to get rid of toxic waste from Union Carbide’s pesticide plant in Bhopal, with German agency GIZ backing out of a proposal to airlift 350 tonnes of waste to Europe for safe disposal.

After three months of extensive contract negotiations with the Indian government, the firm on Monday said: “Hazardous waste disposal through GIZ is no longer an option.” In a statement on why the contract did not materialise, GIZ said “uncertainties [which] extended to the German public” had grown during the months of struggling to close the deal.

Earlier this year, the Union Cabinet approved the proposal to pay Rs. 25 crore to GIZ to airlift the waste on the recommendation of a Group of Ministers headed by P. Chidambaram. However, GIZ’s negotiations on the agreement being carried out with the Madhya Pradesh government have stalled, mostly over disagreements on the sharing of liability, arbitration and jurisdiction in case of dispute.

“This is now back in the GoM’s court,” said Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan when asked about the fate of the waste now stocked in a warehouse.

The 350 tonnes of waste – which is not directly linked to the deadly gas leak of 1984 but rather comes from chemical pollutants dumped by Union Carbide from 1969 onwards – is merely one part of the more than one million tonnes of contaminated soil and other wastes still present at the site. Bhopal residents say this waste is still seeping out, poisoning land and groundwater all around the plant.

Attempts to dispose of the 350 tonnes of waste in several Indian incinerators — with the last effort at Pithampur in Madhya Pradesh — were vociferously opposed by people living nearby. Now, protests as far away as Germany have ensured that the waste cannot be taken to Europe either.

Letter to Chidambaram

In a letter to Mr. Chidambaram, GIZ said “German media misrepresentation” had triggered unease among the public. According to German press agency DPA, the letter from GIZ regional director Hans-Hermann Dube said, “It would be in the best interest of strong Indo-German cooperation not to pursue this project offer further.”