As the country readies to undertake Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cleanliness campaign on Thursday, activists in Bhopal are asking when the thousands of tonnes of toxic waste at Union Carbide plant will be disposed of.
Various studies have suggested that about 10,000 metric tonnes of toxic waste is lying in and around the site, while about 6.5 lakh cubic metres of soil has been contaminated by it since the leak at the plant 30 years ago killed thousands of people.
Activists have complained that the waste has contaminated ground water and has spread into nearby ecosystems.
"There is tremendous hype over Modi's Swacchata Abhiyan and everybody has turned into a champion of cleanliness overnight. But they have forgotten about 10,000 tonnes of life-threatening toxic waste," says noted activist Abdul Jabbar.
Another activist, Rachna Dhingra, said the authorities have no idea about the exact quantity of the toxic waste, not to speak of how far and deep it has spread.
The government’s record of waste disposal is equally bad, she said, referring to Pithampur facility where 350 metric tonnes of packaged waste was proposed to be incinerated.
"From 2008 till now the authorities couldn’t ensure that the company that operated Pithampur facility had the necessary equipment for proper incineration of the waste," she said.
The company, Ramky Envior Engineers, had ignored the pollution control board’s warning that the consent for operation (CFO) will be revoked if it failed to procure the equipment.
Still, the company carried out seven trial runs for incineration of Carbide waste at Pithampur facility.
Interestingly, the state government, which filed a special leave petition before the Supreme Court stating that the Carbide waste was not disposed of at Pithampur facility, failed to bring to the court’s notice that the facility lacked an essential component for safe incineration of the waste.
In June 2014, the pollution control board revoked the CFO of the Pithampur facility. It was restored only after the MP Waste Management Project agreed to give an undertaking to install the equipment within six months and also deposit a bank guarantee of Rs 50 lakh.