By Rupam Jain Nair
AHMEDABAD, India, May 28 (Reuters) - An Indian company said on Monday it would dispose of hazardous waste left over from the world’s worst industrial disaster in Bhopal by burning it, sparking environmental concerns.
The firm, Bharuch Environ Infrastructure Limited (BEIL), is based in the western state of Gujarat and is a joint venture of hundreds of companies in the region.
"Disposing the controversial Union Carbide waste is child’s play for us," said BEIL chairman Ashok Punjwani in Ahmedabad, Gujarat’s main city.
"It will be burnt in incinerators for eight days at a very high temperature," Punjwani added, speaking at a news conference.
In Dec. 1984, tonnes of toxic gas leaked from a pesticide plant — then owned by Union Carbide — in Bhopal in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, killing nearly 3,800 people.
Since then, thousands more have died from exposure-related sicknesses, while tens of thousands of survivors remain sick.
After years of controversy about who should clear the waste at the plant, BEIL said it would undertake the job for 9 million rupees ($222,000), to be paid by the Madhya Pradesh government.
About 350 tonnes of tarry waste lie in plastic sacks in the Union Carbide plant. BEIL will transport it from Bhopal to Ankleshwar, an industrial zone in Gujarat state by July.
But environmentalists say the decision to move the tar-smeared waste to neighbouring Gujarat will be disastrous and are protesting against it.
They filed a petition this May in the Bhopal High Court to prevent the move but the court has yet to hear the case.
"Union Carbide created the mess so they should clear it," says Madhumita Datta, a campaigner for the rights of survivors.
"Why is any Indian company touching it?"
Union Carbide is now owned by Dow Chemicals Co. (DOW.N), but the Michigan-based firm says it never owned or operated the Bhopal plant, which it took over in 2001.
Dow has urged the Madhya Pradesh government to withdraw a clean-up suit against it, saying that no court has ever held it responsible for the disposal of waste at the Bhopal plant.
In 1989, Union Carbide paid $470 million compensation to victims and said responsibility for the clean-up lay with officials. The Madhya Pradesh government took over the site in 1998.
Datta said India did not have the technology to safely dispose the waste and warned if it is burnt it would pollute the air.
But the state-run Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB) disagrees.
"We cannot get emotional. Let’s burn the waste and forget it forever," GPCB secretary Sanjiv Tyagi told Reuters. ($1=40.50 rupees) (Additional reporting by Reuters reporter in Bhopal)