India’s Much Awaited Chemical Weapons Convention Bill


On Aug 30, 2012 the Lower House (Lok Sabha) of Indian Parliament passed a bill to amend the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) Act (2002). The Chemical Weapons Convention (Amendment), 2012 Bill “prohibits transfer of specified toxic chemicals from and to a country which is not party to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC)”. Passing of this Bill was part of India's international obligation towards CWC.

Through this Bill some amendments in the CWC 2002 Act have been carried out which were more of a technical in nature. These amendments have been made keeping the international obligations of this convention in mind and to bring parity with similar acts in other countries. In 2010, when this Bill was introduced in the Upper House of the Parliament it was subsequently referred to the Standing Committee and the 2012 document also incorporates some of the suggestions made by the Standing Committee. Earlier, the Bill was cleared by the Upper House of the Parliament (Rajya Sabha).

No major changes have been found made in the ‘sprit’ of the 2002 Act. What has changed is the some additional provisions have been made in regard to the appointment of inspectors. The National Authority (NA) was setup by a resolution of Cabinet Secretariat dated May 5, 1997 to fulfil the CWC obligations and the 2002 Act had formalised the idea of the National Authority and decided its mandate. Now, the new amendments have widened the scope of 2002 act and confer upon the Central government the power also to appoint "any of its officers" as enforcement officer. Also, the bill makes provisions that "No person shall transfer to, or receive from, a State which is not a party to the Convention, any toxic chemical".

This Act had been put in place after India become the part of CWC regime after signing the convention on January 14, 1993. This 2002 Act deals with the issues related to the development, production, stockpiling and use of chemical weapons (their delivery mechanisms) and in regards to their destruction.

India’s track record towards fulfilling its responsibilities with respect to CWC is extremely commendable. India has totally destroyed its declared chemical weapons stockpile of 1,044 tonnes by March 26, 2009. Unilaterally, India declared the presence of chemical weapons on its soil in 1997. The effort which took a decade for India to completely destroy all the declared stockpile. The National Authority has done a commendable job for all these years with t regard to fulfilling its CWC obligations. The National Authority has established its administrative efficiency and accountability beyond doubt by meticulously following the various provisions of the CWC. Similarly, the recognition was also bestowed upon the National Authority when it was awarded the ISO 9001:2008, Certificate (certification by Bureau Veritas, world’s leading certification body based in France). India’s National Authority is the first among all the member nations of Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to attain this distinction.Incidentally, it is also the first agency in Government of India to get this credit.

Unfortunately, even though countries like India are doing all the efforts to fulfil its CWC obligations but the majors like the US and Russia are found evading their CWC obligations. Both the countries have missed the deadline for destroying their chemical weapons stockpile. They are putting rationale of technical and financial difficulties for their failure and are expected to take many more years (projected by 2020/22) to finish their stockpile destruction. Rest of the world is not found committed towards pressing these countries to finish their task at the earliest. It is important that India should take lead in this regard and create sufficient pressure on these countries like US and Russia to destroy their weapons to make the world free of chemical weapons.

Because of the callous attitude adopted by few powers in the world with regard to CWC regime, there exists a danger that the strategic aspects of the chemical weapons would be lost sight off. In this era of terrorism and open acceptance by the few Middle Eastern countries about the presence of chemical weapons with them it is important to appreciate the threat potential of such weapons.

Interestingly, in Indian context it appears that the Chemicals and Fertilisers Ministry has been responsible to follow the CWC mandate. The recent amendment to the CWC act was presented by this ministry. This indirectly indicates that the industrial interests are having a preference over the strategic interests particularly since India is no longer a chemical weapons power. It could have been prudent that this bill would have been presented either by the Ministry or Defence or Ministry of External affairs in the Parliament. This definitely would have given a strong signal that just because India has fulfilled its responsibilities towards CWC does not mean that India has downgraded the potential of the likely Chemical weapon threat to its security.

Author Note
Ajey Lele, Research Fellow, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi