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Nagpur blocks Bhopal waste

Nagpur, Dec. 18: The Maharashtra Pollution Control Board has refused to allow toxic waste from Bhopal’s Union Carbide plant to be brought to the state saying the DRDO facility supposed to destroy the substances was ill-equipped.

The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) had agreed to incinerate 350 tonnes of toxic waste at its facility at Borkhedi in Nagpur, but the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board told Jabalpur High Court recently that an inspection had shown the facility had not been operational for two years and did not have the capacity to destroy the waste.

The court, hearing a 2004 public interest litigation on disposal of the waste, had in July this year directed the Madhya Pradesh government to take “temporary steps” for immediate packaging and transportation of the toxic waste to the DRDO facility.

It would take roughly two years, the DRDO told the court, to destroy the waste, given its capacity of incinerating half to one metric tonne a day.

In order to transport the toxic substances, the Madhya Pradesh government needed the Maharashtra pollution board’s permission under Section 5 of the Hazardous Waste (Management, Handling and Trans-boundary) Rules, 2008.

After a hue and cry over the transport of waste to Nagpur, the pollution board filed an intervention petition before Jabalpur High Court and subsequently inspected the DRDO facility. The board said it found that the DRDO site had not operated for nearly two years and did not have the capacity to destroy the waste as it had claimed.

The Maharashtra Pollution Control Board told the court it held a public hearing on December 3 and summoned the DRDO and the Madhya Pradesh Pollution Control Board officials but no one turned up. The DRDO sent a letter to the Maharashtra board saying transportation of the toxic waste was not its onus. The Madhya Pradesh authorities expressed inability to attend the hearing saying they were busy with preparations for the anniversary of the gas disaster.

On the intervening night of December 2-3, 1984, poisonous methyl isocyanate gas leaked from the Union Carbide factory in Bhopal and killed thousands of residents. For 27 years no consensus has evolved on a way to dispose of the toxic waste lying in the abandoned plant.

Environmental activists and Bhopal gas victims have defeated two earlier attempts to destroy the waste in Gujarat and in Madhya Pradesh, raising alarm over the toxicity of the substances.