Bhopal: The move to incinerate 337 metric tonne hazardous waste lying for years at the Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) factory in Bhopal by the Madhya Pradesh government almost 38 years after the 1984 gas tragedy has met with stiff opposition.
The survivors and activists fighting for the rights of the survivors of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy have unanimously opposed the tender floated by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led Madhya Pradesh Government on April 7, 2021. According to their claims, over 1.7 lakh tonne toxic sludge is buried in 21 pits inside the factory and thousands of tonnes of waste are buried in 32 acres of a solar evaporation pond located adjacent to the factory.
“In the 74-page tender, the state government has floated the plan for removal of only 337 MT toxic sludge, kept inside the warehouses of the factory after it was collected in 2005, which is only 5 % of the total 1.7 lakh tonne waste,” said Rachna Dhingra, one of the activist associated with a gas-survivor NGO.
“As per the official report of the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute, Nagpur, tonnes of unaccounted waste have been buried in 21 pits inside the plant and in a pond located adjacent to the factory. The waste in the pond was buried in 1977 and after a leakage in the plastic lining of the waste in 1982, it had contaminated the ground water of over 48 colonies in the vicinity of the factory,” The Week quoted Dhingra as saying.
The toxic chemicals have turned the groundwater so toxic that the Supreme Court in 2010 had declared in undrinkable, unusable. The people living in these colonies have been suffering from cancers, skin diseases and others while children have been born with disabilities, she added.
Several scientific studies have shown that even now, groundwater in 48 settlements near the factory are polluted by the hazardous waste buried in the ground, impacting the residents’ health, as per reports.
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The tender stated that out of 377 MT waste, 92 MT is sevin residue and Naphthol residues, 29 MT process/ rector residue, 54 MT Semi-processed pesticide and 162 MT excavated waste/contaminated soil kept on the warehouse in iron tanks and other packaging. The tender also mentioned collection of those wastes from the factory to disposal and submission of report at last.
According to government sources, two companies from Gujarat have shown interest in the tender and also presented a technical presentation to Vishwas Sarang, Minister of Bhopal Gas Tragedy Relief and Rehabilitation Department (BGTRRD) recently.
After approval from the teams of Central as well as State Pollution Control Board over the technical capability of these companies, the work order would be issued. The state government has estimated the project cost at approximately Rs 350 crore.
“The state government has planned to build the multi-crore memorial on the present land of the factory. It will be a centre for the Research on Industrial Development and other research of excellence and it will open a way for employment of gas-hit survivors,” said Vishwas Sarang, Minister BGTRR to the reporters on June 27 in Bhopal, adding, “And to build a memorial, we need to remove the toxic waste first and a tender has already been floated for it.”
Meanwhile, the NGOs working for the gas survivors have termed it as an eyewash just to get rid of the issue. “If the state government is seriously planning to remove the toxic waste, then first they should conduct a survey to get the sense of actual waste buried inside and outside the factory, only then a tender should be floated accordingly,” said Balkrishna Namdeo of Bhopal Gas Peedit Nirashrit Pension Bhogi Sangharsh Morcha.
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“Superficial disposal without studying the extent and impact of the toxic waste will be dangerous,” he added.
“If the government is willing to provide employment to gas-survivors by building a memorial there, then why over Rs 100 crore sanctioned to provide employment to the gas-survivors are lying unused for almost a decade by the Gas Relief Department?” asked Rasheeda Bi, an activist working for the gas survivors.
“Rehabilitation, pension, treatment and survey on impact of gas-survivors are still overdue, but the government is planning to build a multi-crore memorial just to get rid of the subject. This is nothing but an attempt to make mockery of the misery of the gas-survivors,” she added.
She also said that there is no objection to disposal of the toxic waste (337 MT) kept in the shed, but disposal of total waste without studying the extent and impact of the toxic waste will be dangerous.
Notably, attempts were made earlier in 2007 by a Gujarat-based firm to incinerate the UCIL waste in Ankleshwar after the MP High Court's order, but the Gujarat government had refused it. Similarly, the Maharashtra government had refused permission when a Nagpur-based company had showed interest in it. Both the states had cited environmental grounds for refusal of permission to incinerate the waste.
As per reports, trial incineration of 10 tonnes of actual UCIL waste was carried out at the common hazardous waste treatment, storage and disposal facility (TSDF) in Pithampur in Indore from August 13-18, 2015, under the supervision of the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), the Madhya Pradesh Pollution Control Board and the Environment Ministry.
In 2015, the MP-based Ramky Group which operates the Treatment Storage and Disposal Facility (TSDF) had conducted the first pilot round of incineration of waste from the Union Carbide plant.
UCIL manufactured pesticides at its plant in Bhopal from 1969 to 1984 until the fateful night in December 1984, when deadly methyl Isocyanate leaked out of the plant into the city, killing thousands and maiming many others.
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