The most urgent task is to secure the waste
The question is not whether the contamination in Bhopal should be cleaned up first and liability pinned later, or if the clean-up should await identification of who should pay.
The relevant question is whether the clean-up can be done thoroughly by the Indian government or Indian companies, and whether it can be ensured that thoroughness is not sacrificed on the pretext of urgency. Fact is Indian agencies lack the experience and the technical wherewithal to deal with the highly toxic wastes abandoned by Carbide.
In June 2005, M/s Ramky Pharma City was engaged to contain pesticide wastes stored onsite. The botched up containment sent clouds of pesticide dust into surrounding communities. More than 130 residents, who developed symptoms after exposure to the dust, had to be hospitalised.
Again, on April 3 this year, a waste facility — touted as a state-of-the-art incinerator — identified by the MP High Court to receive 346 tonnes of highly toxic Bhopal wastes exploded, gutting a shed and burning 250 tonnes of stored wastes.
This facility is in Ankleshwar — a toxic hotspot in its own right, and desperately in need of a clean-up. An Ankleshwar resident’s attempts to raise concerns about the unit’s capacity to handle the wastes were thwarted after the Court said it was too late to hear these matters.
The 346 tonnes that is sought to be disposed is a red herring. The real threat is the 10,000 tonnes of wastes, buried in and around the factory. No urgency has been shown in tackling these wastes. For this, a comprehensive study of depth and spread of contaminants is the first step.
An environmental impact assessment — of the clean-up exercise — and a management plan to mitigate pollution during clean-up is the second.
Resolving liability issues and the remediation exercise can proceed simultaneously. The question of who should pay — the taxpayer or the polluter — should not occupy the Court’s time for too long if it takes up the matter in right earnest.
In our opinion the most urgent task for the Court and the government is to secure the exposed and buried waste from the ensuing rains and prevent yet another flood of contaminated water this year submerging the neighbourhood communities.
Member, Bhopal Group for Information Action
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