Infoshop, February 10, 2008
Plans by US trananational coreporation Dow Chemical to restructure its research and development (R&D) activities globally have run into trouble with residents of the Indian village of Shinde, some 40km from Pune in Maharashtra. Dow, one of the world’s largest chemical companies with a market value of $54bn, is proposing to set up three new R&D centres, one in Europe, one in Shanghai and one in India. The Indian centre is intended to draw on India’s large and relatively cheap supply of scientific labour, as well as on non-resident Indians who wish to return to India. Dow is planning to invest $100m in the centre which will employ around 500 researchers.
On January 16 Dow’s plans ran into difficulties when local villagers blocked the only access to Dow’s construction site, a road which passes through the village of Shinde, and some 500 women assocaited with the local organisation Bhamchandragarth Bachao Warkari Kisan Sangharsh Samiti (BBWKSS) protested at the site. As well as being concerned at possible pollution from the proposed centre, villagers want Dow to accept responsibility for the chemical disaster at Bhopal in 1984, when toxic gas escaping from a Union carbide Corporation (UCC) factory killed thousands: the disaster’s health effects continues to blight the lives of those affected. Dow took over UCC in 2001 but refuses to accept any responsibility for UCC’s misdeeds. Ramesh Ramachandran, CEO of Dow’s Indian subsidiary, said ‘Dow did have a connection with Union Carbide…but the company now had nothing to do with Union Carbide, whose assets and business have been sold to three separate entities a long time ago.’ (www.rediff.com/money/2008/feb/02dow.htm) UCC’s own webiste notes on its homepage ‘Union Carbide Corporation is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Dow Chemical Company.’ (www.unioncarbide.com)
Dow has wisely decided not to call in the authorities to break the blocade, as such interventions in recent siting disputes in India have led to deaths of protesters and increased opposition. The protest has received support from local worthies such as retired Inspector General of Police SM Mushrif and retired High Court Judge BG Kolse-Patil, as well as from Indian NGOs and Bhopal survivor organisations, which have been fighting for redress for the past 23 years. At a meeting held half a kilometre from the proposed site on February 2, Rasheeda Bi from the Bhopal Group for Information and Action offered solidarity to the BBWKSS, saying ‘We are still suffering from Bhopal as Union Carbide has not yet cleared the toxic waste [from the factory site]. It is the right of the villagers to know what kind of unit is coming up in their village. We never knew what was coming and we suffered a lot.’ On February 8, the Maharashtra State Government announced formation of a committee which is to report in two weeks after holding hearings with the villagers, who have prevented vehicles reaching the Dow site by digging up the road.
Dow says the centre will work on energy conservation, water, low-cost housing, discovery of new molecular entities and development of new uses for existing ones, as well as process engineering and optimisation projects. While Dow says there are no plans to manufacture chemicals at the site, critics note process ebgineering and optimisation work is likely to include the construction of reactors to undertake experimental chemical work.
Sources and further information
‘Dow Chem’s unit to be global R&D hub’ www.rediff.com/money/2008/feb/02dow.htm
‘Villagers hold protest rally, say Dow go back www.expressindia.com/latest-news/Villagers-hold-protest-rally-say-Dow-go-back/268374/
‘Committee to look into Dow imbroglio www.indianexpress.com/printerFriendly/270792.html