An NGO working for the Bhopal gas tragedy victims has alleged that there are no accurate figures available on the death toll of the world’s worst industrial disaster even after 30 years and has also raised concern over the toxic waste lying in defunct Union Carbide plant situated near the densely populated old Bhopal area.
Though unofficial estimates claimed that the death toll due to the Bhopal gas tragedy had exceeded the 25,000 mark, official figure stands at 5,295 for whom the government had compensated.
“So far we have compensated for 5,295 deaths due to Bhopal Gas Tragedy,” Madhya Pradesh Department of Gas Relief and Rehabilitation deputy secretary K K Dubey told PTI.
However, NGO Bhopal Group for Information Action’s (BGIA) activist Rachna Dhingra claimed that as per their information, the death toll had crossed 25,000 since the disaster took place.
“We are demanding compensation for the same, but the state government has so far compensated only for 5,295 deaths,” she said.
Notably, the Madhya Pradesh government had in 2012 demanded from the Centre’s Group of Ministers a compensation of Rs 10 lakh each to the kin of 15,342 deceased in the tragedy, as per revised figures in Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) report, a government release had then said.
Besides, concern has been raised over non-disposal of 350 MT of toxic waste lying in the defunct chemical plant which is a major cause for pollution, especially water contamination in and around the factory.
Hearings have been going since 1999 in Southern District Court of New York against the Union Carbide Corporation, seeking that the poisonous waste should be removed from its factory in Bhopal, Dhingra said.
Around 17 people, living close to the plant, supported by some NGOs, had moved the US court in 1999, but the timid response to the case by successive Madhya Pradesh governments has not yielded any result, she alleged.
“It is high time that MP government should intervene in the US court and get the waste cleared,” she demanded.
In India too, an NGO moved a PIL in Madhya Pradesh High Court in 2004, after a soil sample test carried out in and around the closed factory revealed that the waste was causing air and water pollution in the surroundings having a huge human settlement. But the toxic dump couldn’t be cleared following resistance from different environment groups.In the last decade, the High Court directed the Centre and the state that the toxic waste should be incinerated after tests at Pithampur in Dhar district of Madhya Pradesh.
But the move couldn’t see the light of the day after stiff opposition by some NGOs alleging that disposal of the waste at the incinerator will harm people and the environment of Pithampur, Alok Pratap Singh, president of NGO Zahreeli Gas Kand Sangarsh Morcha, who had moved the HC, told PTI.
After this, the HC ordered that the hazardous waste should be disposed of at Ankleshwar incinerator in Gujarat. Again, the NGOs of Gujarat protested against incinerating plan in that state. The Gujarat government petitioned the apex court to review it decision, Singh said.
The Supreme Court had then directed that the waste should be incinerated at Defence Research Development Organisation (DRDO) plant near Nagpur after assessing its after effects, but NGOs protested again in Maharashtra following which the state government expressed its unwillingness in court on the issue, he said.
Maharashtra Assembly passed a resolution against the disposal of the waste at DRDO, Singh said.
Later, German company GIZ handed a proposal to the MP government to dispose of the waste in Germany, Dubey said.
However, GIZ backtracked following NGOs’ protest in Germany on the issue, he said.
After this, the apex court asked that the waste should be incinerated at Pithampur and in a prelude 25-30 metric tonnes should be disposed on experimental basis, he said.
The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) got similar waste of some organisation of Kochi in Kerala -like the one lying in Bhopal Union Carbide Factory - incinerated at Pithampur.
“Now we are waiting for words from CPCB to hand over the waste to them for incineration,” Dubey said.
After the June 7, 2010, verdict on Bhopal Gas Tragedy, the Group of Ministers (GoM) was formed to look into the problems related to the disaster. The GoM in June 2010 earmarked Rs 315 crore for disposal of waste.
The verdict on Bhopal Gas Tragedy came 25 years after poisonous gas leaked from the plant on the intervening night of December 2-3, 1984.
“...But for the people near the defunct factory, the tragedy isn’t over as they still face air and water pollution given that the hazardous waste lying in the factory was seeping into the ground,” said activist Abdul Jabbar, working for the survivors of the tragedy.