Activists struggled to come up with a plan of action on Friday after the Madhya Pradesh government began disposing tonnes of toxic waste left behind by one of the world’s worst industrial disaster, saying they were caught off guard by the hush-hush move.
More than three decades after the Bhopal gas tragedy, about 10 tonnes of toxic waste was secretly transported from the Union Carbide factory to a private incineration facility in Dhar district, which began burning it on Thursday. The facility is around 225 km away from the state capital.
“This move has caught us by surprise. It is regrettable that the entire operation was shrouded in secrecy. We will get together and come up with a plan of action,” NGO Lok Maitri member Gautam Kothari said.
Lok Maitri had been planning to move the national green tribunal over the issue, but the trial runs have begun before it could take any concrete action.
Apart from the environmentalists, the villagers of Tarpura - located just 200 meters away from the disposal facility in Pithampur - have also been opposing the proposal to dispose the Union Carbide toxic waste tooth and nail.
"According to norms, such industrial waste disposal facility should be located at a distance of at least half a kilometre (from any human settlement). However, this particular facility has been built in violation of norms and the villagers living nearby are at a high risk of contamination,” Kothari said.
Apart from Lok Maitri, other NGOs based in Indore and also in Bhopal have been opposing the move for the past many years resulting in prolonged delay in disposal of the waste.
In 2010, villagers in Pithampur had attacked two vehicles belonging to the company after an altercation. Subsequent protests had also led to the then union environment minister Jairam Ramesh to visit Pithampur in 2011. At that time, he had assured the locals that no decision would be taken without their consent.
The disposal of the toxic waste is being done under the watch of Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) which has declared the facility fully equipped and safe for disposal.
The MP Pollution Control Board (MPPCB) had also formed a committee to look into allegations of safety violations by Pithampur-based waste disposal facility but subsequently gave it a clean chit.
The process follows a 2012 order by the Supreme Court, which told the government to conduct a trial run to dispose of the hazardous waste in the Pithampur facility. Once the trial runs are successful, the remaining 340 tonnes will be transported to Pithampur.
But environmentalists and villagers are still jittery and are opposed to the move to burn the waste from one of the world’s biggest industrial disasters that killed thousands of people and maimed generations.