With the Supreme Court pulling up the centre and the Madhya Pradesh governments over their failure to dispose off tonnes of toxic Union Carbide waste lying in the heart of Bhopal, the problem has assumed centre stage again.
The disposal of the waste-estimated at about 350 tonnes-has been a constant non-starter for a variety of reasons.
Last month, the Supreme Court had authorized the Ministry of Environment and Forests to direct the Madhya Pradesh Pollution Control Board and the Central Pollution Control Board to conduct a trial-run of the incineration at Pithampur in Dhar district of Madhya Pradesh, after the Maharashtra government refused to allow the incineration to be conducted at the DRDO facility at Nagpur.
However, the residents of Pithampur-an industrial township near Indore-and those of the villages around it, have been protesting against the incineration of the waste there. Their concerns too, are not without basis.
During an earlier trial run of the incineration at Pithampur in 2010, six workers were seriously injured and partially lost their vision after being exposed to the toxic waste.
On its part, the Madhya Pradesh government has maintained the waste disposal facility at Pithampur was not fully operational yet and any attempt to incinerate the hazardous waste there could lead to another disaster.
Instead of Pithampur, the State government has been considering another proposal to have the waste incinerated outside India.
German firm GIZ (German Agency for International Cooperation/Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit), formerly known as GTZ, has offered to incinerate the 350 tonnes of hazardous waste at its facility in Hamburg, Germany.
GIZ has offered to do the job for “approximately 1.5 million Euros/INR 9 crore 75 lakh”, much lower than the cost offered by waste management firm Ramky Enviro Engineers, which was supposed to incinerate the waste in Pithampur, Indore for Rs.36 crore.
(Some news reports have said the State government is considering a proposal from a german waste management firm, GEM.)
The proposal has also found favour with former environment and present rural development minister Jairam Ramesh, who recently urged the Group of Ministers (GoM) on Bhopal, headed by home minister P. Chidambaram, to consider it.
With the Supreme Court directing the GoM to decide on the matter within two weeks, it remains to be seen whether Mr. Ramesh's backing of the GIZ proposal will be considered.