Almost three decades after deadly gases spewed out of the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, the Union Cabinet has finally approved the proposal to airlift 350 tonnes of toxic waste from the defunct pesticide factory site to Germany for safe disposal.
Tuesday's Cabinet decision comes after attempts to dispose of the waste in several Indian plants were vociferously opposed by nearby residents. The Central government will pay Rs. 25 crore to German firm GIZ to remove the waste.
While a Group of Ministers had recommended this move almost a month ago, the Madhya Pradesh government is yet to seal the deal with the German company, prompting the Supreme Court, on Monday, to issue a one-week deadline for finalising the agreement. The process of removing the waste should be completed in one year’s time.
This is merely the beginning of the process to clean up the abandoned factory site. One million tonnes of waste still remains, most of it contaminated soil from pollutants dumped by the company between 1969 and 1984. Bhopal residents and activists say this waste is still poisoning the land and groundwater of their city, damaging the health of 40,000 people, and drawing the effects of the tragedy far beyond the 1984 gas leak well into the present day.
While the Central government will bear the cost of the airlift and disposal in Germany, it is still engaged in litigation in Indian courts to ensure that Dow Chemical — the company which bought Union Carbide — pays the bill for the wider decontamination. The National Environmental Engineering Research Institute had pegged the total cost of soil decontamination at somewhere between Rs. 78 crore and Rs. 117 crore.
However, on June 28, a U.S. district court ruled that Union Carbide Corporation was not liable for environmental remediation or pollution-related claims.