Following strong protests by the Maharashtra government, the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) has directed that hazardous waste at Bhopal's Union Carbide chemical plant, now owned by Dow Chemicals, will be incinerated at a facility at Pithampur in Madhya Pradesh.
Replying to a calling attention motion in the Assembly on Monday, Maharashtra Environment Minister Sanjay Devtale said the State government had opposed the burning of waste at the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) facility near Nagpur.
He said that at a meeting called by the MoEF Secretary on February 22, it was decided that the waste would be burnt on an experimental basis at Pithampur — where it was originally proposed — and once the incineration facility was full-fledged, the entire waste would be disposed of there.
However, there were noisy scenes in the House over bringing of the waste into the State while Mr. Devtale clarified that no waste had been brought from Bhopal so far.
Meanwhile, a show cause notice was issued to a private company, Mumbai Waste Management Limited, for agreeing to test and dispose of the waste, albeit with the consent of the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB).
The Jabalpur Bench of the Madhya Pradesh High Court had on December 19, 2011 asked the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) to analyse the waste for its toxic impact when burnt. The CPCB, in turn, asked the Mumbai Waste Management Limited to carry out the tests at Taloja and ordered the MPCB to give its permission.
The MPCB, however, on February 6 wrote to the CPCB saying the latter should have first sought the State government's permission as per the rules governing hazardous waste management but instead went ahead and issued orders without proper consultation. The MPCB refused permission to carry out any test or incinerate the waste.
Following protests by the Maharashtra government, the Defence Minister, too, wrote to the State government assuring it that nothing would be done without its consent.
The Madhya Pradesh government, following a Supreme Court order, had already started burning some 40 tonnes of waste at Pithampur, before local protests put a stop to that.
The waste from the infamous Bhopal plant, which has been lying around since the world's worst industrial accident on December 2-3, 1984, contains halogenated compounds, among other things, which could release toxic dioxins when incinerated.
Later, the Jabalpur Bench's order to send the waste to the DRDO facility near Nagpur sparked off fresh protests from there. The matter will be heard on April 9 next.
Mr. Devtale said action would be taken against the Mumbai Waste Management Limited within 15 days irrespective of its reply to the notice. However, members across parties were dissatisfied with the answer and wanted the Minister to give a firm assurance that the waste would not be burnt in Maharashtra. The Speaker reserved his reply.
Last year, the Maharashtra government had filed an intervention appeal before the Jabalpur Bench against its July 12 order to incinerate the waste, at the DRDO facility. The government had contended that there were no storage facilities at the DRDO incinerator at Butibori near Nagpur and the total waste amounted to about 350 tonnes. Transporting the material over a distance of 357 km to Nagpur would pose problems, the petition claimed.