India Secretly Dumped Bhopal Toxic Waste

5:10pm UK, Sunday July 11, 2010

Alex Watts, Sky News Online

The Indian government has apologised for secretly dumping toxic waste from the Bhopal gas leak.

demonstators wearing masks protests ouside the Bhopal court

Demonstrators call for justice over the Bhopal disaster

It has also promised future transparency in the way it tackles its clean-up of the world's worst industrial disaster.

Thousands of people were killed in December 1984 when a lethal gas cloud leaked from the Union Carbide pesticides factory in Bhopal city.

Now, officials have admitted that two years ago 40 tons of deadly waste were secretly taken from the site at night to an incinerator 140 miles away in Pithampur.

In an attempt to help end the continuing controversy over the disaster, environment minister Jairam Ramesh said the clean-up had to be done openly and properly.

"I admit as minister that it was wrong to have brought those 40 tons 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."

According to the government, some 3,500 people were killed when poisonous gas engulfed neighbouring slums - but human rights groups claim 25,000 people died in the years that followed.

Bhopal protests

Protesters march to mark the 25th anniversary of the leak

A year after the tragedy, local authorities collected 350 tons of toxic waste and left it in the factory yard.

Most of it remains there untreated.

The government has vowed to finally clean up the site and to improve compensation payments to those affected.

It comes after outrage last month over the punishment handed out to eight former Union Carbide employees.

The group - including Keshub Mahindra, the former chairman of the Indian arm of the American firm - were told they would serve a maximum of two years in jail.

The absent American former boss of Union Carbide, Warren Anderson, escaped judgement after the court declared him an absconder.

Victim support groups were outraged by the leniency of the court, saying the maximum two-year sentence was similar to the punishment handed out for a traffic accident.

A study last year by Bhopal Medical Appeal said the slums surrounding the factory were still laced with lethal chemicals that are leaching into the groundwater and soil, causing birth defects and a range of chronic illnesses.

Dow Chemicals, which now owns Union Carbide, denies any responsibility saying it bought the company a decade after Union Carbide had settled its liabilities to the Indian government by paying $470m (£324m) to the victims.