Bhopal waste disposal hits a roadblock

The Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court banned the entry of 346 MT of toxic waste from the Union Carbide factory site, for incineration, in to the state. The incineration was to be carried out at the DRDO (Defence Research and Development Organization) facility in Nagpur. The order was issued on July 21. The ban has been extended till July 28, when the hearing is scheduled before the Jabalpur bench of the Madhya Pradesh High Court.

The bench comprising justice Bhushan Dharmadhikari and justice Pramod Kode directed the state government, Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) and the petitioners, to file an intervention petition in the ongoing hearing of the Public Interest Litigation (PIL) at the Jabalpur bench of the Madhya Pradesh High Court. This will make it clear that there will be no contradictory orders by different courts. The petitioners in the case are Vidarbha Environmental Action Group (VEAG), citizen’s collective Janmanch and BJP MLA from West Nagpur Devendra Fadnavis.

There is stiff opposition to Madhya Pradesh's incineration plans and support has come from the Bhopal gas victims who announced that they will not allow another Bhopal. Protests in Nagpur were fueled after the Jabalpur bench, on July 12, instructed the MP government, the Defence Research and Development Establishment and MoEF to begin the process of transporting waste to Nagpur within 10 days of the order, at the rate of 'at least one metric ton waste' per day.

In its submission to the court the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) pointed out that DRDO's Nagpur facility does not have the permission of either getting the 356 MT waste or incinerating it.

According to Sudhir Paliwal of VEAG, the site of the DRDO facility where the incineration was proposed was very close to the heavily industrialized and thickly populated Butibori, Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation (MIDC). "Air pollution from the incineration could cause serious health hazards to the local population, apart from contaminating ground water in the area, as happened in Pithampur. Nagpur city, which is within 30 km of the facility, will also not be free from the impact,” he warns.
Activists claim that there are no facilities in India that are capable of disposing of such toxic waste. Activists are demanding that Dow chemicals should be ordered to take all the waste to US and dispose it off there. Rachna Dhingra of the Bhopal Group for Information and Action, demanded that this waste should be disposed off in any of the OECD (Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development) countries that have the capacity to deal with such hazardous waste. She added while everyone was concerned about the 346 MT of waste, no one was talking about the 27,000 MT of hazardous waste lying in the solar evaporation pond within the premises.

The other concern is the mixed reports on the level of toxicity of the waste. While reports by NEERI and DRDE say that toxicity levels in residues are very low, others have challenged these verdicts. A May 29, 2010 letter from M S Unnikrishnan, managing director and CEO of Thermax Limited, a company that supplies incinerators in India, to Pushpa Bhargava, founder director, Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad states that the waste is highly toxic, with high concentration of  the highly reactive halogenated compounds, which if incinerated in the presence of heavy metals can create highly toxic dioxins.