Olga Trellis, The Asian Age, July 17th, 2007
Mumbai, July 17: The Indian government has been quietly trying to facilitate the entry into the country of Dow Chemical, now the parent company of Union Carbide. New Delhi appears to take the view that Dow Chemical bears no responsibility for the December 1984 gas tragedy at Union Carbide’s plant in Bhopal, in which at least 7,000 people were killed immediately and 15,000 more died over the years.
Union Carbide, whose operations in India were shut down shortly after the Bhopal disaster, has been a wholly-owned subsidiary of Dow Chemical since 2001.
Documents available with this newspaper indicate that India’s ambassador to the United States, Mr Ronen Sen, has been playing a key role in efforts to create a climate in which Dow Chemical can enter India and do business unencumbered by the baggage of Bhopal. The government had in the aftermath of the gas disaster been engaged in protracted court battles with Union Carbide both in India and in the United States, and had even launched criminal proceedings against the company and its officials, including then chairman Warren Anderson. Some of these cases are yet to be resolved.
The documents show that encouraged by the government’s current stand, Dow Chemical chairman Andrew Liveris had written to Mr Sen, setting out an agenda for the company to start business in India. Mr Liveris wrote: “With the support of local Indian CEOs and foundations, there is opportunity now for the Government of India to work closely with the state of Madhya Pradesh and Indian industry to remediate (meaning remedy, or redevelop) the Bhopal site. This should take place expeditiously – beginning immediately with GoI officials and industry leaders meeting with the relevant Cabinet Secretary who has executive oversight for the remediation efforts. GoI and the state government will need to work with the court overseeing the site cleanup to assure that this effort will pass legal muster as the site’s final remediation plan.”
This letter literally tries to dictate to a sovereign government on what should be done in its own territory.
After this letter became public, Amnesty International USA, which is a shareholder of Dow Chemical and of New York City Pension Funds, has sought an inquiry by the US Securities and Exchange Commission “into the significant concerns about the company’s failure to disclose risks to shareholders” regarding developments in the Bhopal gas tragedy.
A lawyer, Mr Stanford (sic – Sanford, ed.) J. Lewis, had on behalf of Amnesty and others written a letter on April 12, 2007 to Mr Conrad Hewitt, chief accountant, Securities and Exchange Commission, and Mr John W. White, director, division of corporation finance, SEC, about Dow Chemical’s moves which had left its shareholders in the dark. Mr Lewis wrote: “The chairman and CEO of Dow Chemical, Andrew Liveris, had written to Mr Ronen Sen, Indian ambassador to the US, on November 8, 2006, saying that despite Dow’s assertions to the contrary, the Bhopal legacy issue is not behind the company. Mr Liveris urges the Government of India, which is a co-party in certain legal proceedings and an adverse party in other proceedings, to take various steps to support the company’s position that it has no ongoing liability for the Bhopal tragedy.
“He goes on to express a desire to discuss the next steps with Ambassador Sen with a goal of supporting economic growth in India, by which he means ‘key foreign investments that will promote job creation, economic diversification and technology updates.’ The reference is unmistakably to Dow’s own investment activity in India,” Mr Lewis wrote.
Tomorrow: Dow Chemical chief tries to avoid paying Rs 100 crores in environmental remediation costs