Three months after the chlorine gas leak at the Hay Bandar area of Mumbai Port Trust, the government has not been able to figure out a way to get rid of over 203 tonnes of dangerous goods that are lying at the port premises since 1983. In fact, there are over 600 tonnes of hazardous substances in seven of India's 12 major ports, and the government is clueless about how to dispose these off.

At some ports, the importers have backed out and claimed that the goods were never ordered by them after they were seized. For instance, the consignment of 100 cylinders of chlorine that caused the leak in July was later seemed to have been ordered by nobody.

                                                                                                                                                              The Mumbai incident had prompted the shipping ministry to take stock of ‘hazardous’ substances that may be lying with the other major ports. The outcome was a list of the range of such material present in the ports — waste oil, used batteries, war material like empty shells and cartridges, corrosive liquid, waste scrap, slag, brass ash etc.

Most ports are struggling with these goods in their own ways in the absence of any centralised mechanism. Mumbai Port Trust, for instance, has decided that from now on it will not handle any consignment of hazardous nature since it is located in the prime city area.

Kolkata Port Trust has decided to put any hazardous waste for auction after the importer does not take delivery of the consignment. “The ports have been asked to identify and dispose off such goods. We will come out with clear-cut action in this regard based on the recommendations of a three-member panel probing the chlorine leak,” said Shipping Secretary K Mohandas.

Various other ports are caught in a legal tangle over the final fate of the hazardous material. Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust and Tuticorin Port Trust have forwarded their reports of the hazardous substances to the concerned authority. About 12 tonnes of waste oil at the Chennai port has not got the customs department’s approval since 1993. “We have decided that we won't sell these goods, but take them somewhere and destroy them. Since we don’t have the wherewithal to take up this task and no outside agency has come up to help, we have yet to figure a way out,” said a senior official in the shipping ministry.

Another knotty issue being faced by Kandla Port Trust in Gujarat is that none of the security agencies is responding to its call for help.

The government had sought the help of local police, army and the bomb disposal squad to destroy about seven containers of war material lying at the port after customs seized these goods in 2005, but things have not moved at all.