Even as it pursues its case to make Dow Chemical pay for the clean-up of the Bhopal gas leak site, the Centre has decided to spend about Rs. 250 crore towards complete remediation.
The entire process of decontaminating the one million tonnes of toxic waste at the site will be completed in two to three years, according to sources at the fourth meeting of the current Group of Ministers (GoM) on the Bhopal gas leak disaster, which met here on Sunday. While the Centre will offer funding and technical support, the onus of actually doing the work lies with the Madhya Pradesh government.
The National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI), which made a presentation at the meeting, has recommended that the decontaminated soil be buried between concrete slabs at the site itself.
After the meeting, Home Minister P. Chidambaram told journalists that the GoM covered all the subjects identified under its mandate. “The minutes are being drawn up. Tomorrow [on Monday], the GoM will meet again to finalise the minutes — finalise the recommendations and conclusions. I expect to send the report to the Prime Minister in the afternoon,” he said.
Issues regarding litigation and rehabilitation were discussed in the last two days. As reported, the GoM would recommend a fresh attempt to extradite the former Union Carbide chairman, Warren Anderson, and the filing of a curative petition to reverse the Supreme Court's 1996 judgment and enhance punishment.
Sunday's meeting focussed on the environmental aspects of the disaster, including “remediation of contaminated soil, contaminated water, the toxic waste that are at the site and the corroded plant, the corroded steel and other material,” according to Mr. Chidambaram.
On Saturday, the GoM decided that the government would vigorously pursue its case against the Dow Chemical in the Madhya Pradesh High Court, directing the company, which bought out Union Carbide in 1991, to deposit Rs. 100 crore towards the cost of clean-up. However, some activists and victims' groups are worried that the government's decision to pay for the remediation means that Dow Chemical is effectively being let off the hook.
Sources at the meeting said one suggestion discussed was the establishment of an Empowered Remediation Authority. However, the State government was not keen on the idea, and the general conclusion was that the primary responsibility remained with the State government.
It has been agreed that the 350-odd tonnes of currently-stored toxic waste will be incinerated at the Treatment, Storage and Disposal Facility at Pithampur, near Indore.
The NEERI, along with the Indian Institute of Chemical Technology and the National Geophysical Research Institute, will submit a joint report by the end of June on technical details of site remediation and the dismantling, detoxification and decommissioning of the plant structure itself.