Ministers wriggle to avoid becoming Union Carbide’s latest victims

Minister Jairam Ramesh, at a meeting yesterday with Bhopal survivors’ groups, said he was sorry that in July/August 2008 the government had secretly smuggled 40 tonnes of of highly dangerous waste out of the Union Carbide factory in the dead of night and taken it to an incinerator site in Pithampur, to be burned.

“I admit as minister that it was wrong to have brought those 40 tonnes of waste to Pithampur,” said Ramesh, whose previous pronouncements on the subject included picking up a handful of contaminated soil and saying to journalists present, “Look I am still alive”.

The Minister, who last month refused to give straight answers to students from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, when questioned about the toxic waste and other Bhopal-related matters, yesterday appeared to have changed his tune.

Ramesh’s nose picking apology

In between picking his nose, Jairam Ramesh apologised for endangering inhabitants of Pithampur by secretly burning Carbide’s waste there.

“Whatever we do needs to be done with adequate transparency.” Picking his nose, he went on: ” I am ready to admit publicly that transporting that waste from the Union Carbide factory secretly during the night hours was wrong. Locals of Pithampur should have been taken into confidence.”

Bhopal survivors’ organisations have long condemned government plans to use Pithampur and its incinerator as a dumping ground for the lethal wastes abandoned at the Union Carbide factory. Meanwile irate residents of Tarpura village, located 300 metres from the TSD plant, blocked a road and shouted angry slogans when Ramesh arrived there to offer his apologies for endangering their lives and health.

The protesters would have none of it. Saying that dumping the poisonous waste in Pithampur would endanger their survival, they demanded that the TSD facility be shut down.

At a separate meeting in Delhi, Babulal Gaur who, as Minister of Gas Relief and Chief Minister in the BJP government of Madhya Pradesh, did absolutely nothing to help the survivors, tried to pin the blame for their neglect on the UPA government. He appears to have forgotten that while Chief Minister he ignored a Supreme Court order to provide clean water to people affected by water contamination, pleading lack of funds, yet at the same time unveiled a plan to spend 800 crores on beautifying Bhopal and other MP cities with fountains and badminton courts.

Kamal Nath’s toxic volcano

Meanwhile Minister Kamal Nath, one of Dow’s chief allies in the UPA government declared that “there could be more than one million tons of toxic waste lying in and around the disaster side. The question facing us is how do we deal with it?” For an answer, the UPA government is turning to the incompetent and discredited NEERI.

“We are sitting on a toxic volcano,” said Nath, unconscious of the irony of echoing of the long ago warning of journalist Rajkumar Keswani who was sitting beside him on the podium. Keswani had warned four times in the early 80s that Bhopal was living on the edge of a volcano, and four times the politicians ignored him.

“We will have to use every legal method available to bring Dow to book since they have purchased the assets of Union Carbide and are therefore liable for all the consequences of these assets,” said Nath.

Well, we have all seen what exemplary sentences and fines the courts can pass and no one should be surprised if Madmohan Singh’s government “transparently” declares there to be no water contamination, “transparently” declares it legal to blow up Nath’s toxic volcano all over the Pithampuris and “transparently” rejoices when its chum Dow is rapped on the knuckle and fined five lakhs.

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