Environment ministry, CPCB endorse burning Bhopal's toxic waste at Nagpur

Ignore report that says defence research organisation's facility not suitable for disposing of heavy metals

By Aparna Pallavi
Published: Thursday 01 December 2011

In a surprise move, the Union environment ministry and the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) have supported disposing of Bhopal's toxic waste at the Nagpur waste facility maintained by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). In its report submitted to the Jabalpur bench of Madhya Pradesh High Court on November 22, CPCB said the DRDO facility near Borkhedi in Nagpur district is capable of incinerating the waste from the now defunct Union Carbide plant, and asked the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) to cooperate.

The move has taken both the Maharashtra government and MPCB by surprise because the report ignores some vital facts. First, the CPCB report, which mentions that the waste contains mercury and heavy metals, totally ignores the earlier report of the MPCB, which expressed reservations about the suitability of the DRDO facility for burning the waste, a legacy of the Bhopal gas disaster of 1984, and had mentioned expressly that it is not suitable for burning heavy metals. Second, the report ignores MPCB’s revelation that the DRDO facility has been non-functional since two years. Third, under statutory rules regarding inter-state transport of hazardous waste (in this instance the waste will be transported from Madhya Pradesh to Maharashtra), MPCB has to first conduct a hearing. No party in the case, including the DRDO facility itself, has approached MPCB with a formal application for this till date.

The Maharashtra government has been given time to reply to this plea till December 9 by the Jabalpur bench, and the earlier order staying the transport of the waste to Nagpur has also been extended till the hearing on that date.

Nagpur citizens protest

The new turn of events has evoked a sharp criticism from citizens and people’s groups of Nagpur. Director of the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI), Satish Wate, says that rather than risk the lives of 112,000 people in Pithampur (industrial area  in Madhya Pradesh, a proposed site for disposing the waste), the Madhya Pradesh government finds it a better option to risk the lives of 5 million people of Nagpur. An earlier report by NEERI had stated that the Pithampur facility is better suited for incinerating the waste, he adds.

Devendra Tiwari of Akhil Bharatiya Grahak Kalyan Parishad wondered why, when an affidavit has been submitted to the effect that the DRDO facility is non-functional, the CPCB is insisting on moving the waste to Nagpur. “MoEF and CPCB are being irrational,” he says.

Local people’s representatives have called upon the Maharashtra government to oppose the move tooth and nail. The Maharashtra cabinet has, in view of massive public opposition, already taken a decision not to allow the waste within state borders.

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