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Non-profits present high court committee with documents on extent of water and soil contamination
The group of ministers appointed by the Centre to look into Bhopal gas disaster-related matters will meet on June 8 to finalise the disposal of 350 tonnes of hazardous waste lying at the defunct Union Carbide factory even as survivors and non-profits protest against the continuing threat to public health from water and soil contamination. A day before the meet, a monitoring committee of the Madhya Pradesh High Court visited localities near the factory and directed the Bhopal municipal corporation to ensure piped water supply to the residents living near the pesticide factory.
It was the first visit of the committee, headed by former chief justice of India R C Lahoti, after it was constituted in March this year. The committee visited four of the 18 affected localities to check whether these areas are getting piped water supply and to take stock of water contamination. The committee was presented with studies and documents by five non-profits to show the extent of contamination that has taken place following the December 1984 gas leak tragedy.
September 30 deadline
Justice Lahoti directed the municipal corporation of Bhopal to get its act together by September 30. He directed the municipal officials to ensure that the water pipes in all affected localities are repaired and that fresh water is supplied to each household. He asked the officials to ensure water is supplied with adequate pressure in order to prevent contaminated water from seeping into the pipelines. He also directed the officials to put in place a good drainage system.
The monitoring committee was established following the Supreme court order of April, 2012, in which the apex court directed the Madhya Pradesh government to resolve water supply and contamination issues within three months. A similar order was issued earlier in 2004, but little progress has been made so far. Non-profits say that many areas do not have water pipelines at all and where they do exist they are damaged and leaking; at times, sewage water enters the drinking water pipes.
The visit, which lasted two hours, has made the residents hopeful. “The meeting was good and directions given to government officials present at the site were promising. We hope that action is taken soon,” says Rachna Dhingra of Bhopal Group for Information and Action. She adds that the court intervention is a relief as the municipality is ignoring the concerns of the people living in the area. “Even today, just before the committee was to arrive, the municipal officials were covering up a leaking pipe with contaminated soil from the abandoned factory site,” says Dhingra.
Studies by various groups, including Delhi non-profit Centre for Science and Environment, show high levels of toxicity in water and low availability of water. Ground water in the affected localities contains chemicals like napthol, lindane, manganese and endosulfan.
So far, a total of Rs 67 crore has been disbursed under various schemes for providing better civic amenities and safe drinking water in localities affected by the gas leak. “But we have not seen the benefits of this money,” says Rashida Bi of Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmchari Sangh.
Nawab Khan of Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Purush Sangharsh Morcha says the committee visit gave people the chance to show officials the actual state of affairs. Municipal officials and state government officials accompanying Lahoti inspected the pipelines and water pressure. "Today we had water supply at good pressure but everyone in the locality informed the committee that this was only because of their presence and there was no water pressure two days before and nothing can be said of the coming days," adds Khan.
Register for public complaints
Last month, Khan's non-profit carried out a survey in the 18 localities worst affected by the 1984 leak and discovered that while 7,500 water connections were to be provided as per the court directives, the municipality had so far provided only 3,500. "The officials did not accept our study but have agreed to survey the localities along with us beginning tomorrow," says Khan. He adds the committee has directed the Bhopal municipal corporation to maintain a register from July at the locality municipal branch for the residents to register their complaints regarding water supply. "The register has always existed but we never had access to it," he says.
Photo Gallery: Toxic Legacy
Video: Behind the Lens: Bhopal