Business Standard, September 27, 2008
Appoints panel to look into protesters’ charges.
Maharashtra Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh has stayed the construction of Dow Chemical’s research and development (R&D) facility at Vasuli-Shinde village near Chakan in Pune district of Maharashtra. While staying the construction work for a month, Deshmukh has also announced the appointment of a committee under the chairmanship of a retired high court judge to look into the contention of villagers, Varkaris (members of a religious sect) and civil society activists that the Dow facility, if allowed, would pollute the area.
The Chief Minister is currently in London, scouting for investments in the state. Ironically, Deshmukh took this step just a day after Union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar, while visiting Pune, came out in support of the project. Pawar’s pro-Dow statement had angered Varkaris so much that they intensified their agitation across the district.
Speaking at a conference in London earlier in the day, Deshmukh had appealed to industry captains to make farmers stakeholders in their projects as they were feeling threatened whenever attempts were made to acquire farmland for industrial or infrastructural purposes.
Dow Chemical is investing $100 million (Rs 460 crore) to develop the R&D centre over 100 acres of land at the Vasuli-Shinde village. In late July, Varkaris, led by sect leader Bandya Tatya Karadkar Maharaj, had torched portions of the upcoming facility.
When contacted, retired high court judge B G Kolse-Patil, president of Lok Shashan, the organisation on the forefront of the agitation, said, “We welcome the state government’s decision to stay the construction work and appoint a committee. This is the first victory in our long-drawn battle against Dow.” He also thanked Pawar for making those pro-Dow comments, which “hurt the sentiments of Varkaris and forced the government to take the decision”.
Reached for comments, a Dow Chemical spokesperson said they had not received any communication from the government in this regard.