“It is a failure on your part to deal with this, even after 28 years”

The Supreme Court has pulled up the Centre for not being serious about cleaning up the toxic waste lying around for the past 28 years, in the defunct Union Carbide plant in Bhopal. At a special hearing by a vacation Bench on Monday, the court asked if the government's attitude stemmed from the fact that the victims were poor.

“You are not sure even after 28 years. It is because the people affected, and living in Bhopal, are poor. It is a failure on your part to deal with this,” said the Bench, consisting of Justices G.S. Singhvi and S.J. Mukhopadhyay.

The court had deferred its earlier order, directing disposal of the toxic waste by the Pithampur waste treatment storage and disposal facility in the Dhar district, because of serious concerns raised by the Madhya Pradesh government, victim and supporter groups and other organisations.

The Madhya Pradesh government wanted to send the waste abroad to be incinerated, as none of the Indian incinerators were competent enough, stating that if it were done in India, it would cause a second mass poisoning.

The lawyer appearing for the victims and supporter groups, Karuna Nundy, told the court that the 350 metric tonnes of waste in question was just a tiny fraction of the 27,000 MT in the ground. She further said that bad handling can seriously harm the health of many, pointing out that in June 2010, six workers had to be admitted to hospital, and had partially lost their vision when lime sludge from the Union Carbide site was attempted to be incinerated in Pithampur. She also added that Union Carbide and Dow Chemicals must be made responsible for the clean-up, instead of the taxpayer. She asked that the court supervise the export of the waste.

The Centre, however, said that it was going to have a meeting of the Group of Ministers on June 8 to decide on the issue. The court was extremely severe on the government and said: “You have not taken any decision. Even this affidavit of yours is so vague and you always say that you are hopeful.”

The matter has been posted for further hearing on July 2.