NATIONAL

Water contamination continues to dog Bhopal gas victims

BHOPAL, DEC. 1. Twenty years after the Bhopal gas tragedy several of the victims living close to the now abandoned Union Carbide plant continue to drink water contaminated by huge quantities of toxic chemicals lying scattered at the site.

There are over one lakh victims here, a large number of them suffering from irreversible lung damage leading to immune deficiency. These people need a pollution-free environment. But the authorities have done very little to keep the most-affected old city areas clean and the roads free from traffic congestion. When garbage is set on fire, the toxic fumes add to the victims' plight.

A few activist groups had begun investigations into the contamination of the area near the Carbide plant over a decade ago following complaints of foul-smelling water in tube wells and hand-pumps. The Bhopal Group for Information and Action (BGIA) sent samples to the Citizen's Environmental Laboratory at Boston, United States. The tests confirmed the presence of dichlorobenzene, phthalates, trichlorobenzene and napthalenol in the samples.

The National Environment Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) also submitted a report, pointing to the "high concentration of temic and sevin" in the disposal areas inside the plant premises. In November 1999, even Greenpeace had tested soil and groundwater in and around the factory premises and found 12 volatile organic chemicals and mercury in huge quantities.

On May 7, 2004, the Supreme Court intervened and directed the State Government to supply clean water to the communities affected.The affected people have been demanding water from the Kolar reservoir through regular pipelines and not from the Upper Lake as proposed by the State Government. Hundreds of residents from the 14 communities living next to the Union Carbide factory have held demonstrations in the State capital to press their demand.

When contacted, the affected residents said the State Government had not moved even one step forward towards finding a permanent solution to the problem. Instead of laying pipelines, public money was squandered on water tanks and tankers and people were being forced to continue drinking the contaminated water.

"This is a clear violation of the Supreme Court's order," said a resident.

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