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What is being done regarding toxic waste at Union Carbide in Bhopal ?

October 1997: Eveready Industries India Ltd, which bought Union Carbide’s share in Union Carbide India Ltd. commissions National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) to find out the extent of contamination at the Bhopal plant site. NEERI finds high levels of toxins and identifies hot spots. Presence of sevin (carbaryl), lindane and alpha napthol are reported in findings.

1998: Madhya Pradesh government takes control of Bhopal plant site.

November 1999: Environmental NGO Greenpeace conducts study similar to NEERI and finds contamination on a massive scale in and around Bhopal plant.

1999: Bhopal activists seek legal remedies in US courts against UCC for environmental harm based on these two reports. Case is still pending in US courts.

February 2001: Dow Chemicals completes acquisition of Union Carbide making the later a fully owned subsidiary of Dow.

2004: Activist Alok Pratap Singh files public interest litigation in MP High Court seeking to hold Dow Chemical responsible for pollution at the site and immediate action for clean up.

March 30, 2005: The HC sets up a task force under the chairmanship of secretary, department of chemicals and petrochemicals, Government of India for removal of toxic waste from the plant. In May 13, 2005, order is amended to include K P Nyati of CII in the committee.

May 31, 2005: The first meeting of the task force is held in Delhi. The Madhya Pradesh Pollution Control Board (MPPCB) is chosen to act as the project coordinator for the work. CII suggests that the secured landfill site in Indore (owned by Ramky Enviro Engineers) is most suitable for disposal. NEERI says that the tarry waste stored need to be incinerated. CPCB experts suggested that in this case the waste should be taken to world-class incinerator owned by Bharuch Enviro-Infrastructure Limited (BEIL) in Akleshwar in Gujarat. The task force suggests phase-wise treatment of waste. For in-situ remediation of contaminated soil and remediation of groundwater, the task force assigned the study to NEERI, National Geophysical Research Institute (NGRI) and the Indian Institute of Chemical Technology (IICT).

2005: Based on this report MP High Court orders NEERI to undertake pre-treatment study. The contract for pre-treatment and packaging of the collected waste, about 390 tonnes, is given to Hyderabad based company Ramky Enviro Engineers Limited; 40 tonnes of the waste is found to be suitable for landfills.

July 4, 2005: Second meeting of the task force is held. Progress made in phase 1 work (collection of waste and preliminary analysis of samples) reported. For phase III (dismantling and decommissioning of the plant), the IICT proposal of Rs 121.22 crore is discussed. The MP government conveys that it is considering that the plant should not be dismantled and a memorial built at the site.

October 18, 2005: Fifth meeting of the task force is informed by CPCB that the Gujarat Pollution Control Board has conveyed its no objection for the transportation of tarry waste to the state.

2006: The technical sub-committee set up under the task force is expanded to co-opt two members – P M Bhargava (formerly with the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology) and J P Gupta, Gujarat Energy Research and Management Institute.

October 16, 2006: The ninth meeting of the task force discusses status and profile of waste tested in laboratories. It is informed that Gujarat government will have to be informed that the quantity of waste to be sent for incineration is much higher. The expenditure for transportation and disposal will be borne by the Central and state government in the ratio of 50:50 vide the HC order of March 30, 2005. In the 10th meeting it was agreed that the Court would be informed that the cost of incineration would be Rs 2 crore.

February 2007: MP HC directs that 350 tonnes should be sent for incineration to BEIL in Ankleshwar, Gujarat and the remaining 40 tonnes of lime sludge transported to the landfill in Pithampur.

October 2007: Following protests from environmental NGOs within the state, Gujarat government withdraws its NOC for one-time disposal of waste from Bhopal.

June 2008: 40 tonnes of hazardous waste is sent to the landfill site at Pithampur in Dhar district of Madhya Pradesh. Activists alleged that this was in gross violation of hazardous waste rules as the landfill site of Ramky in Pithampur is within 500 metres of a habitation area.

June 2008: Fourteenth meeting of task force agrees to look for alternatives to Akleshwar incinerator in Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh. It is agreed NEERI and NGRI would be completed by June 2010.

August 2008: Director of the Defence Research and Development Establishment, Ministry of Defence, Gwalior writes to the Union government saying that the toxicity tests show waste has very low mammalian toxicity and are non-skin irritants (see related factsheet 3 on research studies on waste).

December 2008: The Madhya Pradesh HC reinstates order to Gujarat government to accept 350 tonnes of waste for incineration, failing which contempt proceedings would be issued against them.

January 19 2009: Gujarat Government files a Special Leave Petition in SC appealing against this order (CC 292/2009). The MP HC order is stayed.

April 2009: Bhopal Group for Information and Action and others intervene in the SC case and file an affidavit asking that the waste be disposed off in a facility abroad as the sites in India are not ready or are inadequate to receive and dispose off the waste.

April 13, 2009: Supreme Court hears the case. Gujarat government files an affidavit raising legal and technical issues on the readiness of BEIL for incinerating the waste. On April 24, 2009, the Union government seeks time to examine the matter. Case is listed for July 2009.

July 20, 2009: The eighteenth meeting of the task force agrees to set up an expert group under the chairperson CPCB to examine alternatives to the incinerator in Gujarat and to rank these in order of preference.

October 28, 2009: Nineteenth meeting of the task force discusses the report of the expert group set up to assess disposal facilities in the country; 5 TSDF sites are visited – Ankleshwar Gujarat, Dungigal in Hyderabad, Taloja Mumbai and ranked, while sites at Indore and Nagpur are not as the facilities are not ready. The Dingigul facility is 839 km from Bhopal and Taloja 779 km and transportation over long distances could pose problems. The expert group also explored the option to incinerate the waste in cement kilns. The National Council for Cement and Building Materials conducts technical study of co-processing sludge of UCIL in cement plants and recommends blended sludge at rate of 2 per cent in kiln. It is agreed that the trial run would be completed by December 2009 and results submitted to the task force by January 2010.

December 1, 2009: 25-years after the horrific night. The Supreme Court hearing is listed for January. The task force is taking decision on possible incineration of stored waste in cement factories. The NEERI and NGRI report is expected in June 2010. The state government has opened the site for ‘disaster tourism’. It now says there is no contamination. Nobody discusses who should have liability of clean up (see factsheet 4). CSE releases its report showing contamination of the site. The nightmare continues.
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