Dow Chemical to be billed for removal of toxic waste from Union Carbide site
Dow Chemical, contesting the Union government’s Rs 7,844 crore ($2 billion) demand for additional compensation to 1984 Bhopal gas leak disaster victims, is set to face additional claims from the Centre for incineration of the toxic waste lying at Union Carbide’s plant for the last 28 years.
The Centre on Monday informed the Supreme Court that it would bear the cost of the pilot project for safe disposal of 346 tonnes of toxic waste from the Carbide plant at Hamburg by a German agency within this month.
Additional solicitor general Gaurab Banerjee told a bench of Justices G S Singhvi and S J Mukhopadhay that “the Centre will bear the cost of disposal but will recover it from Dow Chemical”.
The US-based Dow Chemical has declined to share its wholly-owned subsidiary Union Carbide Corporation’s alleged past residuary liability towards compensating the Bhopal gas tragedy victims and had even refused to submit to the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of India, which is dealing with the Union government’s plea for an additional Rs 7,844 crore ($2 billion) to the gas victims. The demand was in addition to $489 million given by Union Carbide in 1989 under an apex court supervised settlement.
But the long delay in disposal of the toxic waste lying at the Bhopal plant, which is allegedly contaminating ground water sources, anguished the bench. The total toxic waste lying at the defunct plant is estimated to be 27,000 tonnes.
“You (the government) have not taken steps for last 28 years. May be because the people, who died or are disabled by the toxic gas in 1984, were poor. It reflects total apathy on the part of the concerned authorities,” the bench said and demanded to know the chronology of action taken towards disposal of toxic waste since the constitution of first group of ministers in 1991.
Appearing for the Madhya Pradesh government, senior advocate Ravi Shankar Prasad shared the bench’s anguish but requested the court not to send the matter back to the high court for dealing with the safe disposal of the toxic waste.
On the joint request of Banerjee, Prasad and NGOs’ counsel Karuna Nandy, the bench agreed to monitor the issue and said, “Initial steps for disposal of 346 tonnes of waste are in place. We will give directions on disposal of the entire toxic waste after hearing all parties.”
On learning that the pilot project was underway and that the GoM headed by home minister P Chidambaram was yet to take a final view on the issue, the bench deferred the hearing till July 2. The court also told Nandy that the NGOs could make an application on behalf of those victims who were yet to get compensation.
However, Prasad promised that the German agency was set to give a detailed project report by June 4. “The MP government will make a presentation before the GoM immediately thereafter. Let the first phase disposal be completed and then the GoM should consider strategy for disposal of 27,000 tonnes of toxic waste,” he said.