National Green Tribunal Orders Bhopal Groundwater Sampling

Following articles published in The Hindu and other news outlets towards the end of last year about water contamination in Bhopal caused by dumped toxic wastes at the abandoned Union Carbide factory site, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) issued notices to multiple Government water Authorities and Boards to carry out fresh sampling on the ground.

The National Green Tribunal is an environmental protection body under the Indian Ministry of Law and Justice and Ministry of Legal Affairs. Created in 2010 to handle cases relating to environmental protection and conservation, the body is guided by principles of natural justice and is supposed to reduce the burden of litigation in the courts and bring about speedier resolutions to disputes involving environmental issues. One of the principal places of sitting of the Tribunal is in Bhopal.

Ahead of the 39th anniversary of the Bhopal gas disaster in December 2023, multiple news outlets reported on the spread of groundwater contamination in Bhopal to new and previously unaffected communities. As a result of the press coverage, the National Green Tribunal once again took up the issue and sent notices to the Central Groundwater Authority (CGWA), the Madhya Pradesh Pollution Control Board, and the Central Pollution Control Board to carry out fresh sampling to determine the spread of the contamination.

The contamination at the site originates with the dumping of toxic waste by Union Carbide on the factory grounds between 1969 and 1984, prior to the gas leak. The extent of the water contamination was not fully discovered until some years after the gas leak, and since then has been steadily spreading and affecting more neighbourhoods year on year. A cleanup effort by the Indian authorities in 2006 resulted in large quantities of waste being moved to a shed on the factory grounds, but beyond that no further work has been done and contaminants continue to sink into the soil and poison local drinking water.

After receiving the NGT’s directive, the Central Groundwater Authority collected 36 fresh samples from water sources around the factory in December 2023. The NGT has requested CGWA to file a report based upon the testing of the samples to reveal the extent of the further spread of the contamination. We now await the publication of the report and what it reveals, and if the findings are in keeping with earlier reports and the survivor’s own testing of soil samples, which suggest even nearly 40 years later the contamination continues to spread at an alarming rate.

Girl with candle Bhopal

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