According to a news report, a remote village in Dera Ghazi Khan (DG Khan) has been allegedly used by Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) as dumping ground for deadly nuclear waste.
Ismail Leghari, a dweller of a village in the vicinity of Baghalchur, told ‘The Nation’ that livestock mortality and diseases among people had been on the rise for the last one year.
Ismail was not the only person in the grip of fear of hostilities commonly attached to the word “atomic”. The matter of dumping nuclear waste has been concerning all and sundry. Though illiteracy is something glaring over there, the locals somehow understand that radiation in the active nuclear waste can be a matter of concern for a long period of time.
“It is not that we have not lodged complaints with local PAEC authorities and the tribal area administration, but in fact no one is inclined to pay heed to our concerns,” said Ghulam Farid Leghari, a local who was said to be detained on the orders of political assistant for two months for making hue and cry over the issue.
Situated in the mountainous tribal area of Dera Ghazi Khan district, Baghalchur remained an important site for uranium extraction for 22 years until further mining here was stopped in 2000. Tribesmen belonging to various sub-clans of Buzdar and Leghari tribes of Balochi origin inhabit Baghalchur and its adjoining areas, including Ronghan.
The area has been categorised by the Asian Development Bank as among the most backward parts of Pakistan. And its fate remains unchanged despite playing a vital role in the country’s ambitious nuclear programme by providing a major chunk of the raw material.
However, the locals seem to be contended with the role their rugged native land had played in realizing the dream of becoming a nuclear state. “But we were baffled to see some PAEC trucks unloading waste material a few years back in a uranium mine,” Farid Leghari said, adding the laborers engaged in the unloading process were covered from head to toe in special uniform.
The locals said after that episode the arrival of trucks laden with drums of waste material became a recurrent affair. Initially, people sought help of their tribal elders to have their concerns addressed but they remained indifferent as they lived in Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad, he remarked. However, some of the locals mustered courage and moved the Dera Ghazi Khan district and sessions court in October last year as a last resort to stop the PAEC from dumping its waste in a populated area.
Earlier, the PAEC authorities were informed about concerns and demands of the local population on March 3, 2005, by the then political assistant, Syed Imtiaz Husain Shah. Their straightforward and valid demands were that the PAEC should tender a certificate that the material being dumped in the Baghalchur repository was not harmful to the people and their animals and in case of any bad effect of the nuclear waste surfacing at a later stage, the medical treatment of the local community would be its responsibility.
Jaffar Buzdar, the nazim of the area union council, said the people were not given any assurance regarding their concerns and demands. In their application to the district court, petitioners Naseer Shah, Nazeer Buzdar, Lal Muhammad and Maqsood had said the adverse effects of the â€˜radiationâ€™ emitting from the nuclear waste had started affecting the local population and its livestock.
They particularly pointed out abnormal growth of the feet of some animals.
In reply, the PAEC authorities in Dera Ghazi Khan claimed that the waste was being dumped underground in the tunnels and there had been no radioactive effects of it on the area population and its environs.
The locals, however, countered the PAEC claim saying if the dumped material was not radioactive then why it was being placed here after removing from far-off centres of the commission. The district court forwarded the case to the Law, Justice and Human Rights Commission for further hearing in February this year. The commission is said to be chaired by the chief justice of Pakistan.
The CJ sought report from the commission through the attorney-general. On March 29, the apex court was informed that the PAEC wanted 15 days to submit its reply. The court directed that the PAEC reply should be kept secret until further orders were issued in the matter. The SC has yet to fix the next date of hearing the case.
Utter neglect of the authorities concerned becomes evident when one visits Baghalchur. The uranium mines can be seen unprotected while heaps of sand and material left in the leaching process of uranium are found lying in open along the natural watercourses of the area.
Experts say it is a universal principle that the nuclear waste must be dumped away from man and his environment. They say it is the duty of the Pakistan Nuclear Regulatory Authority to ensure safety regime while handling the nuclear waste.
Dr Pervez Hoodbhai, professor of Physics at the Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad, said a radiochemical analysis of the environs of Baghalchur had to be carried out and a complete medical checkup of the area residents should be conducted to ascertain affects of radiation (if any) on their general health condition.
He stressed that an independent inquiry commission should also be constituted to look into dumping of active nuclear waste in the area.
It may be added here that around 50,000 people live in scores of hamlets situated in and around Baghalchur, which is not far away from Dera Ghazi Khan town of half-a-million population. (Courtesy Dawn)
Mr. Pervez Butt, Federal Secretary for Ministry for Science and Technology, has said that the nuclear wastes are being dumped underground and there is no apprehension of spreading nuclear radiation. According to BBC, Pakistan Atomic Nuclear Energy Commission took out the uranium from Baghalchur area between 1978 and 2006 for the nuclear energy and this process was stopped in 2000 but the nuclear wastes continue to bring other nuclear plants to dump in Baghalchur against which the local people filed an application into the court.
Recently a member of the treasury benches, Sardar Jamal Leghari, raised the issue in the Senate and urged the government to take urgent action to curb the menace. Leghari happens to be a former district Nazim from the area and obviously his word carries some weight. According to the legislator, there are clear signs that something fishy is afoot in the area. Deformities and other serious health problems, he believes, are on the rise and the life expectancy in the area has fallen. Leghari believes that the government must urgently refer the issue to the Senate’s Defence or Environment Committee. Although the matter is already before the Supreme Court, which is holding in-camera proceedings, additional pre-emptive steps could be taken given the potentially grave threat posed to public health.