Toxic waste still sits in Union Carbide factory

The Madhya Pradesh government's efforts for the past three years to dispose of 346 tonnes of Union Carbide toxic waste have failed to bear fruit. The proposal to dispose of the highly toxic waste in a treatment, storage and disposal facility (TSDF) in Pithampur has met with stiff opposition from the locals.

The villagers near the facility and the NGOs have raised apprehension of adverse impact on the environment due to disposal of the Union Carbide waste in the TSDF in Pithampur. However, officials of Ramkay Enviro Engineers, who are operating the facility, have assured that all the safety norms were being adhered to and the emission levels were being monitored by the pollution boards.

Meanwhile, the NGOs got a boost when in July 2010, the then Union environment minister Jairam Ramesh, during his visit to Pithampur, had assured the villagers living near the disposal facility that any decision to dispose the waste would be taken in consultation with the state government after taking the environmental impact into consideration.

In August 2011, a Nagpur bench of the Bombay high court had stayed the move to dispose of the toxic waste at a facility of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) near Nagpur amid protests by residents and activists. The DRDO facility was chosen after the government's attempts to dispose it in Pithampur in Dhar district and then in Gujarat failed due to stiff public protests. Subsequently, the group of ministers (GoM) on Bhopal had also ruled out disposal of waste in Pithampur facility."

"We have been pointing out from the onset that the facility in Pithampur was not suitable for disposal of toxic waste due to its proximity to the village," NGO Lok Maitri convener Gautam Kothari told Hindustan Times.

In June 2012, the GoM took a decision to dispose of the waste in a German facility. However, the company pulled out following protests in Germany. With the German company refusing to dispose 346 tonnes of toxic Union Carbide waste, the options before the state and central governments are quite limited. In fact, experts have categorically stated that currently no facility in India is suitable for disposal of toxic waste lying at the defunct plant in Bhopal.

"The alternative is to build a suitable hazardous waste disposal facility at some remote location or to look for another facility outside India," says Kothari.

According to conservative estimate, about 27,000 tonnes of waste (apart from 346 tonnes of highly toxic waste in sealed containers) is lying on the factory premises that is contaminating the groundwater and the air in the area.

As of now, things are back to square one as far as disposal of toxic waste is concerned.


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