23 yrs after Bhopal gas tragedy, MP`s clean-up call finds a taker

Sreelatha Menon, Business Standard, November 07, 2007
At a time no one is willing to touch the toxic waste left by Union Carbide in Bhopal after the gas tragedy of 1984, one transport company has responded to the tender by Madhya Pradesh’s Department of Bhopal Gas Relief and Rehabilitation to clear the waste — 370 metric tonnes of it — buried on the company premises. Nobody had responded to the last tender.
However, MK Nagrik Parivahan & Udyog Sahakari Samiti, the sole bidder for the tender, is being criticised as inexperienced and ill-equipped to remove hazardous waste. “The bidder, with just eight months of experience in transporting fertilisers between Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat, has just one truck,” said an NGO.
The state government is yet to take a decision but the criticism indicates the waste is destined to remain stuck for some more time.
But the man who wants the contract, Dharampal Chaurasia, Secretary of the MK Nagrik Parivahan and Udyog Sahakari Samiti, is confident. “I don’t know why the earlier tenders did not get any bids. If our application is accepted, I will fight all obstacles.” He defended his credentials as a transporter. “I have the records to prove my ability to transport hazardous wastes,” he said.
Chaurasia denies he has just one truck and little experience. He says he has been working for three years and has been taking IFFCO’s fertiliser waste from all over the state to Kandla. “I can prove this in court,” he said.
The high court has asked the state to take steps to clear the waste, 370 metric tonnes of which is buried on the premises of the plant and 8,000 tonnes is in the nearby solar ponds.
The court had, in fact, asked the authorities to send 300-odd metric tonnes of the waste to Ankleshwar in Gujarat and 39 metric tonnes to Dhar in Madhya Pradesh. However, the Gujarat government told the Central Pollution Control Board it could not accept the waste.
The officials are positive. “We are yet to get the application but one must appreciate that when companies with several trucks refused, a company with a single truck has come forward,” said an official of the Department of Bhopal Gas Relief and Rehabilitation: He denied that the Gujarat government refused and said the process of removal of the waste would be monitored by the court.
Nityanand Jayaraman of the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal says the companies are reluctant to take up the work due to the resistance they anticipate from the Bhopal gas tragedy survivors and their supporters.
“They are moving in circles over just 370 metric tonnes. What will happen to the 8,000 tonnes in solar ponds where children and cattle take baths? The contamination spreads every monsoon. It is a Rs 1.20-lakh contract and so this company fell for it. It does not know the strict rules for transporting hazardous waste,” said Rachna Dhingra of the group.
NGOs and survivor groups oppose dumping the waste in India. “Let them pack the waste in metallic barrels and take it back to the US,” says Dhingra.
The court is trying to settle two matters at a time, the disposal of the waste on the plant site and fixing the liability for cleaning up.
In the latter, there have been unconfirmed reports of the Union government making efforts to withdraw its application demanding a Rs 100 crore remediation deal from Dow Chemicals, which took over from Union Carbide. But the last two hearings have seen no change in the Centre’s stand.

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