Dow offers to clean up Bhopal gas tragedy mess

The following article contains no quotes from either government or Dow sources and appears to be a plant aimed at softening public opinion to the idea of Dow paying a sum of money and then walking away from its legal obligations under the polluter pays principle. Both in principle and in defence of the need for full reparations for the thousands who suffer damaged health from Dow’s ongoing poisoning, survivors will oppose such a move with all their strength. Ed.
Gireesh Chandra Prasad, TNN, 5 Sep, 2007, Economic Times
NEW DELHI: Dow Chemicals, which has drawn up major investment plans for India and is reported to be in talks with Reliance Industries (RIL) for a manufacturing joint venture, has volunteered to pay for cleaning up the Bhopal gas disaster site as long as it is not slapped with the legal liabilities of Union Carbide Corporation (UCC).
The gas tragedy at UCC’s Bhopal plant took place in 1984. Dow acquired UCC in 2001.
Official sources told ET that Dow has indicated its willingness to pay, but it should not be seen as an obligation. Dow acquired UCC 12 years after it paid $470 million to the government as the final settlement of all claims as per the Supreme Court’s directions.
Consequent charges or cases cannot, therefore, be Dow’s liability, the company feels. The global petrochemical major sees the cleaning-up as an act of corporate social responsibility.
The ball is now in the law ministry’s court. Its views would be crucial in resolving Dow Chemicals’ demand to be absolved of the legal liability. The company’s offer to voluntarily clean up the mess has come at an appropriate time.
It may be recalled that Investment Commission chairman Ratan Tata had earlier written to the Planning Commission that Dow should be absolved of these liabilities and steps could be taken by others to clean the mess.
The law ministry is now expected to take a call if Dow would come under the definition of ‘polluter’ by virtue of acquiring UCC. The chemicals ministry had earlier told courts that the polluter should pay for remediation, redevelopment, of the disaster site. “We did not mention who the polluter was. By implication, Dow became liable,” said a government official.
The chemicals ministry is likely to place the law ministry’s views and facts before the Cabinet, without explicitly supporting Dow’s demands or turning it down, it is understood. The ministry would tell the Cabinet that while investments are needed, a decision should be taken keeping in mind the sentiments of the affected families.
Dow apparently fears that an unresolved legal liability could come in the way of its executives’ visit to India for business purposes, said a chemical industry source. An assurance from the government that it is not legally liable would go a long way in the company’s plan to transfer operations from some other parts of the world to India, said the source.
However, some sources said that the chemicals ministry will have to withdraw earlier affidavits filed in courts saying that the polluter should pay if it were to allow Dow come in without any liabilities on this count. It remains to be seen if the judiciary will agree to what the government decides politically, he said.
The government had earlier demanded that the company pay Rs 100 crore initially to clean up the site and later pay whatever additional expense it actually incurs.
“Overground contamination has been cleaned up. Now, the more complex underground clean-up remains. It needs technical expertise. Mumbai-based University Institute of Chemical Technology is studying how to go about it,” said a source.
Comment:India is at a cross-roads between choosing her people against corrupt corporations, in the name of FDI. DOW chemicals is a classic case of socially irresponsible company who ignored all the legal battles and protests of Bhopal survivors, with such discontent, till now but when it is time to invest in India, it talks of its “Social Responsibility”. However this is their “Moral and legal Responsibility” as they are still using UC patents for profits.DOW should be made to not just pay for clean up but also for the health problems caused.
Name:Somu Kumar
Location:Washington DC
5 Sep, 2007 1721hrs IST

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