The Madhya Pradesh government has planned to dispose of 337 metric tonnes of hazardous waste from the premises of the Union Carbide factory for the construction of a memorial for the Bhopal gas tragedy victims. The survivors of the Union Carbide disaster, however, termed the move to build a memorial on the highly contaminated factory site a “planned cover-up”
On the 36th anniversary of the incident last year, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan had said a memorial would be built to commemorate those who lost their lives in the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy.
Recently, Bhopal gas tragedy relief and rehabilitation minister Vishwas Sarang repeated that the state government has decided to go ahead with the construction of an ’employment-oriented’ memorial on the abandoned Union Carbide factory premises. As a first, tenders have been issued to dispose of the hazardous waste on the factory premises.
But, Rashida Bee, President of the Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmchari Sangh said, “Since 1990, seventeen reports, including those from the top research agencies of the central government, have confirmed the presence of pesticides, heavy metals and poisonous chemicals in high concentrations till 3 kilometres away from the abandoned factory site. Instead of excavating and removing the thousands of tonnes of hazardous waste that is the cause for the ongoing contamination of Bhopal’s groundwater, the state government is planning to pour concrete over contaminated lands in the guise of a memorial to the disaster.”
“The state government’s grandstanding on the removal of 337 MT of hazardous waste from the factory has to be taken with more than a pinch of salt.” said Nawab Khan, President of the Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Purush Sangharsh Morcha. ” It’s a tiny fraction, less than 0.5 %, of the hazardous waste that is causing the ongoing second environmental disaster in Bhopal. It is being used as a smokescreen to hide the ugly reality of our poisoned city” he said.
Rachna Dhingra of the Bhopal Group for Information & Action said that official agencies have reported high concentrations of six Persistent Organic Pollutants “in the ground water, chemicals that retain their toxicity for over a hundred years. Greenpeace reported presence of mercury in soil in quantities several million times more compared to safe levels. The chemicals and heavy metals found by different agencies are known to damage the brain, liver, lungs and kidneys and known to cause cancers and diseases of the endocrine, reproductive, immune and other systems.”
“The 337 MT waste in question is just about five per cent of the entire waste. The solar evaporation pond itself contains as much as 1.7 lakh tonne toxic sludge and the waste cannot simply be disposed of without scientific assessment. Over a hundred thousand people have been exposed to these poisons for 7 to 20 years and it is finding new victims every day as it spreads.” she said.
The administration claims that out of the 87 acres of factory land, 30 acres have been illegally occupied. Government says that after disposing the toxic waste a memorial will be built here. There will be research and development unit, open theatre, community hall. This monument, built on the lines of Hiroshima, will be known worldwide as Bhopal Memorial. It will also have pictures of the disaster and rescue from the factory.
Vishwas Sarang, the minister in charge of the relief and rehabilitation, said because of such misinformation the land is vacant since so long, the government wants to give a good life to the victims and that is why they are making efforts to provide them health facilities and jobs. “The hazardous waste is lying in the area for years and we are trying to dispose it of as soon as possible as per the guidelines of the Supreme Court and ministry of environment.
Though tough to believe, the survivors of the tragedy get a mere Rs 1,000 per head every month. But over 5,000 women who lost their husbands to the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy, one of the world’s worst industrial disasters, haven’t been receiving even that meagre amount as subsistence pension since December 2019.