With the Supreme Court pulling up the Centre and the Madhya Pradesh government for their failure to dispose of tonnes of toxic Union Carbide waste lying in the heart of Bhopal, the problem has taken 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 court authorised the Union 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 incineration at Pithampur in Dhar district in the State, after the Maharashtra government refused to allow incineration to be conducted at the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) facility at Nagpur.

However, the residents of Pithampur — an industrial township near Indore — and surrounding villages have been protesting against incineration of the waste there. Their concerns are not without basis.

During an earlier trial run of incineration at Pithampur in 2010, six workers were seriously injured and they lost their vision partially, having been exposed to the toxic waste.

On its part, the Madhya Pradesh government has maintained that the Pithampur facility is not yet fully operational and any attempt to incinerate the hazardous waste there could lead to another disaster.

The State government has been considering an alternative 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 for “approximately €1.5 million/Rs. 9 crore 75 lakh,” much lower than the cost quoted by waste management firm Ramky Enviro Engineers, which was supposed to incinerate the waste at Pithampur for Rs. 36 crore.

(Some news reports have said the State government is considering a proposal from a German waste management firm, GEM.)

The GIZ proposal has also found favour with the 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.