Supreme Court orders incineration of Bhopal's toxic waste at non-functional treatment facility in Dhar district

Madhya Pradesh government and activists fighting for Bhopal gas victims to file review petition

 
By Moyna
Published: Saturday 04 July 2015

The Supreme court has ordered the disposal of the toxic waste lying in the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal at the Pithampur waste treatment storage and disposal facility (TSDF) in Madhya Pradesh's Dhar district. But the facility, located 200 km from Bhopal, is yet to be made operational.

The order passed on April 4, 2012 directed the authorities to first carry out trial runs and then incinerate the waste at the earliest. The order comes close on the heels of a Madhya Pradesh High Court order that directed the Central government to appear in person through the secretary of environment and forests to explain what is to be done with the 350 tonnes of toxic waste that has been lying at the Union Carbide plant since 1984 when the Bhopal gas leak disaster occurred.

Environmentalists feel that the Pithampur facility is inadequate to deal with such toxic waste.

The Supreme Court order practically overrules the Jabalpur High Court which is hearing a case pertaining to the contamination caused by the toxic waste lying at the plant site. The case being heard since 2004 was scheduled to be heard by the high court on April 9. But before the matter could be heard, the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) moved a special leave petition (SLP) in the Supreme Court and obtained an order to send the waste to Pithampur.

Justices G S Singhvi and Sudhansu Jyoti Mukhopadhaya directed the authorities concerned—the Madhya Pradesh government and its pollution control board and the Central Pollution Control Board(CPCB)—to take all the necessary steps to ensure effective implementation of the decision taken in the meeting held on February 22, 2012 without any delay. The inter-ministerial meeting was called by MoEF to decide on disposing of Bhopal's toxic waste. The Supreme Court order further states that by July this year the authorities should have carried out trial disposal of the waste and submit a report to the high court. “After considering the report, the high court may issue appropriate directions in the matter of disposal of the waste,” says the apex court order.

Treatment facility out of order

But by the government's own admission the treatment facility is nowhere near adequate. The Madhya Pradesh government is pursuing a case against the private company managing the TSDF, Ramky Enviro Engineers. MoEF carried out three inspections of the facility—in 2007, 2008 and 2009—and highlighted many shortcomings. “No treatment has been proposed for waste-water or leachate generated from TSDF,” states a CPCB report of 2008. As recently as January 2012, responses to Right To Information (RTI) queries show the plant is not functioning properly and there is severe soil and water contamination around the facility. (See Ramky's waste treatment facility contaminating surroundings: CPCB').

CPCB officials admit there are certain issues to be cleared before the trial runs can be conducted as the incinerator is not working. But when asked whether this is the reason for the delay of the disposal of the toxic waste, Vinod Babu, head of the hazardous waste division of CPCB, says: “I cannot comment as there is too much public pressure and social circumstances when dealing with Bhopal waste... It has little scientific basis.”
 
Rachna Dhigra of advocacy group Bhopal Group for Information and Action says MoEF has hurriedly obtained the order just because the official concerned was unwilling to appear in person before the high court and that the latest order has created confusion. The apex court while ordering the speedy disposal of the waste also suspended the personal appearance demanded by the high court. Dhingra explains that the apex court order is problematic on more than one level as it is based on the February 22, 2012 meeting called by MoEF where no representative of the Madhya Pradesh government or the Bhopal survivor groups were present. “A unilateral decision was reached by the Government of India to incinerate the Bhopal's toxic waste in Pithampur,” says Dhingra. 

While MoEF got the apex court to overrule the Jabalpur High Court, the Pithampur TSDF is yet to be tested with normal waste, which the CPCB is to monitor and report on. Only after that the Madhya Pradesh Pollution Control Board (MPPCB) can clear the operations.

“We are ready to carry out the disposal at the earliest as the plant's capacity is two tonnes per hour and as per the court order we are only required to test 10 tonnes. But MPPCB has to give us clearance,” says Vinod Babu of CPCB. He refused to comment on the reasons for delay on part of CPCB.

The state pollution control Board officials were more forthright. R K Srivastava, superintendent engineer of MPPCB says the clearance can only be given if the plant is cleared by CPCB and so far that has not happened. He adds that the Madhya Pradesh government has opposed the disposal of the hazardous waste for a number of years. He says “things are not clear” after the latest order of the apex court. He explains that the state pollution control board has been unable to dispose of waste at the Pithampur site because of technical shortcomings in the plant, which are recognised and acknowledged by CPCB. 

Contamination around Pithampur waste facility

In January, activists obtained information under RTI that shows soil and water contamination around the Pithampur facility. “Samples of ground water and soil does not conform to standards prescribed by MPPCB, the Bureau of India Standards'  IS code: 10500, which specifies drinking water standards, or the standard prescribed in the Environment Protection Rules of 1986,” says Dhingra. She adds that in 2011, in an internal committee meeting, the Madhya Pradesh minister for Housing and Environment went as far as to say that the Pithampur waste management facility was in the catchment area of Yashwant Sagar Dam which supplies water to residents of Indore. Dhingra says that there are enough instances and proof to show that the Pithampur site is illegal and therefore incapable of handling the Union Carbide toxic waste. Following the apex court decision would only increase contamination and further endanger lives. 

For the  past eight years, the survivors organisations have been pointing out that there is no facility in India that can safely dispose of the Union Carbide's waste. It is unfortunate that the Supreme Court has now directed the disposal of this waste to an illegal facility. It is high time that Dow Chemical is made to pay for the transport and safe disposal of the waste in any of the OECD countries,” adds Dhingra.

The apex court order has caused grave concern among both environmentalists and rights' activists while creating confusion among the Central and state government agencies. The Madhya Pradesh government and rights' groups are planning to file a review petition against the SC order.

Ramky's waste treatment facility contaminating surroundings: CPCB

S.
No
OBSERVATIONS
 OF CPCB
INSPECTION
REPORT
MAR 2007
STATUS
REPORT OF
CPCB

JAN 2008
CPCB
NOTICE
UNDER
EPA ACT
MAY 2008
CPCB
STATUS
REPORT

FEB 2009
MPPCB &
CPCB INSPECTION

REPORT JULY 2009
1 The TSDF has valid authorization up to 03.10.2008 and Water consent upto November 2007.  However, it has not applied for Air Consent. No Consent Obtained TSDF is in operation without having valid consents under the Water & Air acts as these expired in Oct 2007 No Consent Obtained Issue not addressed during
inspection
2 The operator has not displayed mandatory information on the hazardous wastes handled by the TSDF at the main gate, as per the directions of Supreme Court. Provided, but not displayed as per the guidelines. No display board was provided as required at the enterance of the main gate of TSDF as well as well as at the incinerable waste storage area Issue not addressed during
inspection
Issue not addressed during
inspection
3 The distance criteria of landfill site is not as per the CPCB guidelines. The village Tarapur is located within 1km distance. The village is located within 500m from the plant boundary.Exact distance May be measured for verifying the compliance status Location of TSDF is not meeting the criteria as suggested under guidelines issued by CPCB Issue not addressed during
inspection
Issue not addressed during
inspection
4 The location of solar evaporation pond (SEP) on the edge of the site may pose threat in case of any flooding of the site.  The ground was sloping down towards the SEP and there was no space available to contain the effluent in case of overflow. No proper precautionary measures were taken No proper bunds around the cell as well as the leachate SEP have been provided so as to prevent rainwater entry into the cell and to prevent flow of materials Issue not addressed during
inspection
Issue not addressed during
inspection
5 Wastes were not stored properly. The wastes of different categories were mixed up and spillages were seen in the storage sheds. At the time of visit, crushed drums, ETP sludge and oil drums were stored.  Paint sludge from Eicher Tractors, Mandideep meant for incineration was also stored in the same shed.  No progress was made   Issue not addressed during
inspection
Issue not addressed during
inspection
6 About 187 T of incinerable wastes, mostly off-specification pesticides were stored in a shed, meant for vehicle maintenance. The TSDF has requested MPPCB for the permission to store incinerable waste, before commissioning the incinerator. Permission not yet obtained Even though the incinerator is yet to commissioned,the TSDF operator has already collected and stored incinerable wasteds in two separate sheds and spillages were also seen within these sheds Incinerator not finished and TSDF operator is in pocession of quite a bit of incinerable waste MPPCB files another complaint under
Section 5 of EPA act for accumulation
of the incinerable waste
7 Three separate pits/compartments were provided in the waste stabilization shed of 24m x12m size.  The waste is stabilized by adding lime, cement and flyash.  The floor and the drain leading to the underground tank for collection of washings were damaged because of heavy vehicles’ movement.   Issue not addressed during
inspection
Issue not addressed during
inspection
8 The liners provided do not match with the specifications given in the guidelines of CPCB. The design of cell or landfill not approved by MPPCB.  The height of the bunds required to be raised above the ground level to prevent flow of materials from either side. No progress was made The TSDF operator have not obtained the
approal from MPPCB with regard to designs of secured landfill facility (SLF) and the TSDF is neither designed nor constructed as per CPCP guideline
Issue not addressed during
inspection
Issue not addressed during
inspection
9 A solar evaporation pond with HDPE liner was provided for receiving leachate and vehicle washing wastewater.  It was been reported that liquid discharges from laboratory, floor washings from stabilization shed and effluents from decontamination of containers were also sent to solar evaporation pond by collecting the wastewater in tankers.  The TSDF was permitted to store the leachate in solar evaporation pond on temporary basis.  No treatment has been proposed for the wastewater. No treatmen thas been proposed for wastewater or leachae generated from TSDF as the leachate is being stored temporareily in SEP Issue not addressed during
inspection
Issue not addressed during inspection
10 The operator was maintaining manifest records and submitting monthly reports & annual report to MPPCB. No Comments   The follow up with Governmental department was poor and decisions were pending  
11 MPPCB has monitored ambient air quality at two locations on 15.12.2006.  The operator has provided six out of seven approved peizometric/ observation wells designated as B1 to B7.  The depth of the wells varied from 150 to 320 feet. The water collected from observation well near solar evaporation pond, B-6 was containing higher concentrations of all the parameters. The phosphates, sulphates, chlorides, sodium, potassium and dissolved solids were all found higher  than the samples collected from other wells Reasons for higher concentrations for all the parameters analyzed from the sample collected from the observatin well near SEP, B-6 is not determinable & reasons for higher concentration of heavy metals from the soil sample collected from opposite side of SLF is not determinable Issue not addressed during inspection Analysis results awaited
12 Not many plants/greenbelt were visible at the TSDF site.  About 1320 plants of selected species were planted in the site No progress was made   Letter written to government officials regarding buffer zones Tree plantation drive started
13 The spillages from the movement of wastes were seen at storage, treatment and landfill areas and provisions made for collection of spillages is not adequate. Spillages were seen inside the incinerable waste storage sheds There is no concerte wall and drainge system at the boundary of SLF as well as TSDF so as to prevent any spillages/seepages during rainy season Issue not addressed during
inspection
Issue not addressed during
inspection

 

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