Officially changing his previous stance, Union Environment and Forests Minister Jairam Ramesh has admitted to the existence of toxicity at the site of the defunct Union Carbide factory in Bhopal, home to India’s deadliest industrial disaster.
The shift in position came in Ramesh’s written reply to a question in the Rajya Sabha by Rajeev Chandrashekhar on Monday.
The minister said a recent study by the Central Pollution Control Board had confirmed the presence of heavy metals, pesticides and some volatile organic compounds in the soil samples and groundwater of the factory.
The plant is shut since December 2, 1984, after poisonous fumes from the factory killed thousands.
In September, Ramesh dismissed the presence of toxic waste around the defunct plant during a visit to Bhopal.
“Where is the poison? I am holding it and I am still alive,” the minister wondered aloud, a lump of clay from the factory premises in hand. “I am not even coughing.”
The statement had angered gas leak victims and NGOs working for them, though Madhya Pradesh’s minister for gas relief and rehabilitation, Babulal Gaur, agreed wholeheartedly with Ramesh.
Abdul Jabbar, convener of the Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Udyog Sangathan, said Ramesh’s previous statement was based on the state’s briefing while his reply in the Rajya Sabha was based on scientific facts.
However, Gaur remained unfazed. “The reports with the state government do not show any toxicity in the soil and water samples on factory premises,” he said.