Briefing notes by Tim Edwards of the UK-based Bhopal Medical Appeal.
The first step is to define the problem with a thoroughgoing assessment of the depth and spread of the contamination. Such an assessment is crucial as it would ensure that the site was cleaned up properly, to international standards. Remediation experts have advised that this kind of assessment would itself cost around one million euros. Given the various vested interests around the site, and the absence of sufficient expertise in India itself, groups representing the affected communities argue that this assessment should be done by an independent body. As a result, the UK-based Bhopal Medical Appeal made efforts with the EU last anniversary to commit to providing monetary and technical support to the government of India for an assessment done to the proper standard, and quickly. An assessment that defines the extent of the problem would also facilitate the litigation attempting to make the polluter finally clean up. The European Union has offered to fund a thorough study of the nature, extent and severity of the contamination, an offer which comes at an opportune time.
The 340 tonnes of waste only represents the surface wastes, which have been gathered together from their previously scattered locations and contained inside a single building on the factory site. Thousands of tonnes of wastes and process chemicals were buried underground during normal operation of the factory, over an area of more that 15 acres, or 21% of the entire factory grounds (see https://www.bhopal.net/contamination.html). These chemicals are the REAL problem, as they are steadily leaching through the soil and geology of the area into the local water supplies, ranging out over several kilometres. Each monsoon washes the chemicals further outwards. In fact, a water report by the Sambhavna Trust, Bhopal and the Bhopal Medical Appeal reveals that concentrations of some chemicals in local water supplies has risen by seven times over the last ten years.
The state government has along history of fudging data on the issue of contamination. Please see the following chronology for a list of deceptions concerning the contamination over the years:
1997 – VK Jain becomes Director of the Madhya Pradesh Pollution Control Board (MPPCB), who have jurisdiction over the factory site.
1997 – NEERI contamination report published with serious flaws. Lowdown on NEERI’s useful incompetence regarding the contamination issue:
July 9th 1998
Carbide’s successor Eveready, under supervision of the MPPCB, is allowed to escape from the factory site without cleaning it up and the State government is saddled with the problem but demands UCC pay for the clean up .
September 23rd 1999
Pollution control board director VK Jain uses the NEERI report to deny there is a contamination problem: “The samples of water have been tested by NEERI and no contamination was detected, he said.”
27 February, 2001
VK Jain’s corruption exposed.
“Ironically, Jain seems to have been using the pollution control board as “a money-making machine” since he became its chairman of the Board in 1997. The state government had extended his term only last November despite grave allegations against Jain and his coterie within the board.”
Babulal Gaur, of the new BJP government in MP, admits the pollution problem and that the State govt. has been covering it up: “Our state pollution control board in December filed a report that confirms that there is contamination of the groundwater, and we will give this to the Supreme Court to settle,” says Babu Lal Gaur, state minister for rehabilitation of the Bhopal gas victims, in an interview with the Monitor.
He notes that these studies were kept under wraps by the previous Congress Party government, but that the new state government, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party, will pursue the case with vigour. “The Dow company, they are responsible for this, and the state government wants Dow to clean up, after the decision of our Supreme Court.”
Babulal Gaur denies the factory site is contaminating water in Bhopal: “This is to help people to get rid of apprehension and misconceptions that chemical waste lying inside the factory is still harmful or that the chemicals are polluting the water in nearby localities,” he said.