Continued betrayal

New revelations about the government’s duplicity in dealing with the fallout of the Bhopal gas disaster have emerged. It appears that in 2008, the government smuggled around 40 tonnes of toxic waste out of the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal to an incinerator 230 km away at Pithampura. It is disturbing that lethal waste was shifted to a populated area. Locals were not consulted or informed of the dumping of toxic sludge in their neighbourhood. As distressing is the great lengths to which the government went to keep the deadly dumping under wraps. Not only was the waste shifted out at night, under cover of darkness but also, the government apparently took advantage of a curfew that had been imposed in Indore at that time. This ensured that the waste was slipped out of the Carbide plant and into Pithampura undetected by the public.
The Bhopal gas leak is tragic not only for the large number of people it killed and continues to kill and maim, but also because the Centre and the Madhya Pradesh government repeatedly betrayed the people. The shifting of waste to Pithampura indicates that the betrayal has not ended. Like Union Carbide, which reportedly held back information on the contents of the gas that leaked, standing in the way of doctors providing victims with the right treatment, the government failed to tell the people of Pithampura that it was poisoning their surroundings. Clearly, the government knew it was doing something reprehensible that would be challenged by the people. Hence, its resort to extreme subterfuge to hide its actions.

Under public pressure, the government recently announced a slew of steps to provide better compensation to victims and clean up the site of the disaster. It has constituted an oversight committee to co-ordinate and monitor activities related to waste disposal, decontamination and remediation at the disaster site. It must ensure that every one of its decisions is made after consulting the victims. Decisions on the clean-up of the site, how it will be done and where have implications for their future. The people are important stakeholders and should be involved in the decision-making process. Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh’s admission of the government’s duplicity with regard to toxic dumping at Pithampura is a refreshing break from the past. He has promised transparency on the government’s future actions with regard to cleaning up the site. Hopefully, he will keep his word.

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