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Offloading Bhopal's Carbide curse

Villagers at site of trial incineration of the toxic waste suffer; police stop protests

Shashikant Trivedi  |  Tarpura village (Pithampur 

An old woman in the village complains that there's none with whom the residents can share their problem
An old woman in the village complains that there’s none with whom the residents can share their problem

The toxic jinx of erstwhile Union Carbide seems to be shifting from its enclosed Bhopal factory site to this small village, a stone's throw from the MP Waste Management Project, a Hyderabad-based Ramky Group company, in the Pithampur (Dhar district) area.

In August, when officials of the Central Pollution Control Board, Union ministry of environment and forests, state pollution control board and Ramky Enviro Engineers Ltd initiated trial incineration of a portion of the toxic waste from the Carbide factory, angry villagers reached the site and tried to register a protest. It was met with police force.

In April 2014, the Supreme Court had, on a petition, allowed the trial run. About 350 tonnes of toxic waste is at the closed Bhopal site, from where the world's worst ever industrial disaster took place on the night of December 2, 1984. Thousands were killed and then maimed. Ground water is contaminated over a large area.

Democracy in action
"There was heavy police deployment that day, to foil any protest bid from villagers," Antar Singh from Tarpura told this newspaper. He complains of a foul smell at regular intervals in the area. "We were present there but none was eager to listen to us," Rakesh Dasana, a small shopkeeper told BS.

Villagers now generally avoid coming to the fore, saying the "company and government" are "powerful" and it was better to remain silent. However, schoolchildren boldly complain of a foul smell, headaches, burning sensation in the eyes and bad odour in water.

"It becomes difficult for us to take lunch with the bad smell when this plant is run. We have to shut the windows of our school," says Deepak, from the middle school in the village. The school now has a separate drinking water storage tank, as none in the village drink groundwater. A nearby well has been abandoned since the facility came into existence, though it has enough water to feed the village.

"We are protesting against the company (MP Waste Management Project) but who is going to listen to us?" asks Bhagwanti Paul, who runs a small shop after she left a job in a nearby jeans-making company. "It is better to stay safe at home than to work in any hazardous company. We have spoken enough against the incinerator but none is going to listen to us."

The people at Tarpura say none comes to inform them as to when and how they would incinerate the toxic waste. "Who knows what they are burning here? We are here to suffer," says Nirmala Pawar, an elderly woman.

Another nearby village, Chirakhan, at a lower level than the incinerator site, seems another bad sufferer. "They have contaminated our fields, our water sources. Our vegetable plants now do not reach fruition. We are not informed what they are doing here. This site must go away from here," says an angry Shankarlal Patel, a farmer. All at Chirakhan, he says, has either a reverse osmosis system installed for safe drinking water or have to walk some kilometres to fetch it.

What next?
"What will happen when they burn the entire poisonous waste of Carbide here? We do not want our next generation to be born with deformities," Indar Singh Chouhan, the village's sarpanch, told this newspaper. "We will soon launch a move against the site."

There are eight more villages impacted - Sitolia, Chhoti Dhannad, Badi Dhannad, Gawla, Machal, Bhanwargharh, Bajrangpura, Betma and Chhota Betma - and water contamination in these is to a similar degree, the villagers complain. All are in a four to five km radius from the site.

An Indore-based non-government body, Lokmaitri, has often registered a protest at what is happening. It is now preparing to petition the central bench of the Green Tribunal.

"They did a trial run for the toxic waste. Instead of burning it at full capacity, 1,800 kg/hour, they put it on a feed rate of 90 kg an hour and hence there were no fumes. We will file a case. Also, the landfill site of the facility (MP Waste Management Project) has now developed problems. Its tarpaulin or plastic base might have torn and as a result, contamination has started seeping and leaching into water sources of nearby villages like Tarpura and Chirakhan," Gautam Kothari, co-coordinator of the organisation, told BS. He is also president of the Pithampur Audyogik Sangathan.

At higher levels
At an oversight committee meeting (a copy of the minutes is available with BS) in September 2010, the state's minister for environment Jayant Mallaiya had expressed concern over the landfill site and incinerator. He'd said the "entire Pithampur area falls within the catchment of the nearby Yashwant Sagar dam". The dam is a major water source for drinking water supply to Indore and its periphery. He had said there was a risk that incineration of the toxic waste could contaminate the groundwater of the "entire Malwa region".

Central Pollution Control Board officials deny the waste incineration has any adverse affect. "None came to register protest when we went for trial incineration. It was monitored properly and a report would be submitted to the Supreme Court," a well-placed official of the board told this newspaper but refused to divulge details. "The matter is sub judice and once the final report is submitted to the Supreme Court, it would be made public."

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First Published: Thu, December 03 2015. 00:30 IST