MP Central Chronicle, July 2, 2007
Agencies,New York, July 1:
In 2001, Dow Chemical bought Union Carbide for $9.3 billion, despite this, Dow has refused to accept moral responsibility or be held accountable for the Bhopal gas tragedy.
It argues that Union Carbide had sold its shares in Union Carbide India before Dow Chemical acquired it and that Dow had never owned or operated that plant. It now seems that the Commerce Minister has concurred with this view, saying that Dow cannot be held accountable for Union Carbide’s liabilities.
Bhopal gas tragedy survivors have charged union Commerce and Industry Minister Kamal Nath and the prime minister of a `sell-out` to Dow Chemical, saying the government was making a concerted move for an out of court settlement to clear the US firm, which owns Union Carbide, of all responsibility of paying damages to the thousands of gas leak victims.
`As 100 percent owner of Union Carbide, Dow Chemical is liable for the clean up of toxic contamination of the soil and ground water in and around the abandoned factory in Bhopal,` maintains Satinath Sarangi, of the Bhopal Group of Information and Action (BGIA) that is fighting for the survivors` rights.
`Dow Chemical is also liable for the health damages, including congenital malformations, caused to the 25,000 people living near the Carbide factory who have been drinking water laced with toxic chemicals and heavy metals for the last 15 years or more,` he asserted.
The gas victims have been demanding that Dow provide medical rehabilitation and economic reparation; clean up contamination in and around the former factory site in Bhopal and ensure that Union Carbide Corporation, now a 100 per cent subsidiary of Dow, appears before the Chief Judicial Magistrate`s court in Bhopal, where UCC faces criminal charges of manslaughter.
`But the PMO (Prime Minister`s Office) files obtained by us (survivors` organisations) under the Right to Information reveals that the prime minister is involved in plans that would allow Dow to walk away from its liabilities in Bhopal`, Sarangi added.
`The `PMO Files` have been uploaded to: www.bhopal.net/pmo.html,` he said.
Sarangi has charged Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia and Union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram with writing to the prime minister recommending taking the matter out of court.
The deadly gas leak from the Union Carbide pesticide factory in Bhopal on Dec 3, 1984, killed more than 20,000 people so far. An estimated 150,000 people continue to suffer from the toxic effects of the gas, including diminished vision, cancer, respiratory, neurological and gynaecological disorders.
Second generation victims are suffering from growth defects and women from severe menstrual disorders.
However, Dow, which took over Union Carbide in 2001, has rejected the contention that it has inherited Union Carbide`s Bhopal liabilities – something the activists don`t agree.
As Union Commerce Minister Kamal Nath sold American investors the India story at the annual US-India Business Council Summit in Washington DC, outside the conference protesters held their ground.
The group, Association for India’s Development or AID has charged the Commerce Ministry of working behind the scenes to absolve Dow Chemical, the American corporation that took over Union Carbide in 2001 of legal liability for the Bhopal Gas Tragedy in return for investing in India.
According to documents obtained through a Right To Information application on February 7, 2007, Commerce and Industry Minister Kamal Nath wrote to the PMO saying: ”While I would not like to comment on whether Dow Chemical has a legal responsibility or not, as it is a matter for courts to decide, with a view to sending an appropriate signal to Dow Chemical, which is exploring investing substantially in India, I would urge that a group under the chairmanship of the Cabinet Secretary be formed to look into the matter in a holistic manner.”
AID claims that despite what the Minister says about leaving the issue of Dow’s legal liability to the court, this letter is a clear indication of where his sympathies lie.
In response to a PIL, the Jabalpur High Court had ordered Dow Chemical to deposit Rs 100 crore for the clearing up of toxic waste and contamination in and around the Bhopal factory site. Protesters claim that since the issue of Dow’s liability is being heard in court, it is improper for a Cabinet Minister to take the matter up directly with the Prime Minister.
“Sure, they can improve the business climate in India but they should send a signal to corporations that when some thing like the Bhopal disaster happens, the company will be held fully liable for all the damage that it has done and not send a signal that we are going to be soft. We are going to let them off the hook,” said Kiran Kumar Vissa, Director, AID.
Dow Chemical’s official stance is that the plant was owned by Union Carbide India – a joint venture between Union Carbide Corporation, the Indian government and private investors. Union Carbide had sold its shares in Union Carbide India in 1994, seven years before Dow acquired it.
The plant is now controlled by the Government of Madhya Pradesh and Union Carbide India is now renamed Eveready Industries.
“The tragedy was at Union Carbide and Dow by integration inherited it. Union Carbide-Dow themselves had no status in this. So, that does not affect Dow’s investments. Of course with the court cases, the court procedures will continue. But we like to see this resolved and to see that this chapter is put behind us,” said Union Commerce Minister Kamal Nath.