Bhopal gas tragedy`s watery trail to tell a story

Shashikant Trivedi, Business Standard, April 24, 2008
The Bhopal gas tragedy remains a live issue 23 years after toxic gases leaked out of a Union Carbide plant in December 1984. Recent developments indicate a desire on the part of the government to put an end to it. A series of reports looks at these developments and the continuing presence of 9,000 tonnes of toxic waste on the premises of the plant.
People living around the Union Carbide plant site here have two options when it comes to drinking water. Either it is the contaminated groundwater, which continues to be affected by toxic wastes dumped in the plant premises, or the municipal water supplied from the nearby Raslakhedi village, known for a huge sewer. The water from both sources has been officially declared unfit for drinking.
Nasiruddin, a resident of Bluemoon Colony in the city, rues his decision of migrating from the nearby Raisen district to Bhopal 28 years ago to work as a labourer. He and his family members are among the 25,000 families in the area suffering from various gastro-ailments. The doctors blame it on water contamination.
These people have been living close to a toxic solar evaporation pond of the now-closed plant of Union Carbide India Ltd.
There are some 8,000-9,000 tonnes of toxic wastes dumped in the premises of the plant which are awaiting disposal. These are said to be the source of chemical contamination of the groundwater in the area.
The Bhopal Municipal Corporation (BMC) stopped supply of water through 96 tanks in 14 localities after people complained of health problems.
The residents were soon offered another option: supply of water from a nearby location in Raslakhedi village, also the site of a major sewage canal. However, a report of the State Pollution Control Board says this water is not suitable for drinking according to the Bureau of Indian Standard (BIS) specifications.
The water has not been tested by the authorities since last year. Another startling fact is that the BMC commissioner is ignorant of the source of water supply (Raslakhedi), its location and the contamination limit of the water.
As expected, a blame game is on between the BMC and the Bhopal Gas Relief and Rehabilitation Department. The department says it is following the court guidelines and working as a nodal agency, while the BMC says it is the department?s responsibility to ensure the water is tested.
?This is for the first time I have heard of Raslakhedi. Where is it? We perform our own chemical and physical tests before supply. I don?t have any idea under which project we supply water to the gas affected. Please ask the gas relief department.? This was how BMC Commissioner Nikunj Shrivastava responded to a query on the source of contaminated water in the area.
The gas relief department also gave a similar reply. ?Sir, chalta hai ?thoda bahoot zahar to hum sab peetey hain (A little bit of contamination is fine),? an official said, adding that ?the water has been tested. The BMC and the State Pollution Control Board test reports say the water is safe on five parameters?.
The Raslakhedi water, according to the pollution control board report, has 600 TDS (total dissolved solids) against the BIS norm of 500, while alkalinity is 350 against the prescribed norm of 200, and hardness limit is 350 against the prescribed figure of 300.

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