Union environment minister Jairam Ramesh on Saturday apologised for the fact that as late as 2008, about 23 years after the Bhopal gas tragedy, the state government was still involved in clandestine operations to aid the offender, Union Carbide.
Taking advantage of a curfew imposed in Indore, which was reeling under communal riots in July-August that year, the government smuggled out 40 tonnes of toxic waste from the Union Carbide factory to an incinerator 230 km away at a site in Pithampur.
Apologising for the government's action, Ramesh admitted that the lethal waste was secretly smuggled out during the night hours from the Carbide factory and shifted it to a treatment, storage and disposal (TSD) facility in Pithampur, Dhar district. "I admit as minister that it was wrong to have brought those 40 tonnes of waste to Pithampur," he said.
''Whatever we do needs to be done with adequate transparency. I am ready to admit publicly that transporting that waste from the Union Carbide factory secretly during the night hours was wrong. Locals of Pithampur should have been taken into confidence," Ramesh said after visiting the TSD. He, however, brushed off any personal responsibility, saying he wasn't a union minister at that time.
In sharp contrast, the Madhya Pradesh minister responsible for victim rehabilitation, Babu Lal Gaur, was unrepentant, saying the act was within the legal parameters and no law had been violated. He refused to provide details.
The transfer of toxic waste was something NGOs in the area and residents of the Indore suburb always suspected, but the first confirmation came on Saturday. It is not clear if the waste was moved by the state authorities on instructions from the centre or on its own.