Bhopal gas disaster survivors hold posters during a protest rally in Bhopal. (AFP File Photo)
More than three decades after the Bhopal gas tragedy, about 10 tonnes of toxic wastes were secretly shifted from the Union Carbide factory in the Madhya Pradesh capital to a private incineration facility in Dhar district, which began burning it on Thursday.
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 at a facility in Dhar district’s Pithampur town.
But environmentalists and residents of the town had opposed the move to burn the waste from one of the world’s biggest industrial disasters that killed thousands of people and maimed generations.
According to official records, the lethal gas leaked from the Union Carbide factory on the night of December 2, 1984, killed 3,787 people. Civil society groups put the figure at more than 10,000.
Government sources on Thursday said the process to shift the dangerous cargo from Bhopal started about a fortnight ago in complete secrecy to avoid renewed opposition from locals and environmental groups in Pithampur.
Sources in Bhopal said about 10 tonnes of toxic materials were packed within a day in four trucks and transported to the facility run by Ramky Enviro Engineers Limited in Dhar district, 225km from the state capital, under heavy security.
Officials of the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) supervised the operation as the trucks were loaded in a single day instead of the three days scheduled for it.
“The trial run (burning the waste) began on Thursday and is expected to be completed in five days,” said an official in Pithampur, the district headquarters for Dhar.
Pollution board member secretary AB Akolkar confirmed to Hindustan Times that the shifting of toxic waste was done in accordance with the Supreme Court order and the disposal would be done in a “scientific” manner.
If the experiment succeeds, the remaining 340 tonnes will be transported to Pithampur. This will clear the decks for a gas tragedy memorial at the factory site.
Earlier, the government was considering burning the waste at a DRDO site in Nagpur and a facility in Germany following opposition from Pithampur residents.
The waste disposal was done following public outcry as well as a Bhopal-based NGO’s public interest litigation in the Madhya Pradesh high court in 2004, alleging that the toxic material was affecting the air and water of the area around the plant.
The first study conducted by Union Carbide which owned the factory in 1989 proved contamination and 16 studies thereafter confirmed it.
“Ground contamination with chemicals has caused birth defects, cancer, damage to lungs, kidneys, brain and skin and was found up to 3.5km from the factory site. The contaminants include organic chemicals and heavy metals like mercury, chromium and nickel,” said Satinath Sarangi of the Bhopal Group for Information and Action.