Dow stumbles on green hurdle

Calcutta Telegraph, September 27, 2008
Mumbai, Sept. 27: Maharashtra chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh got a taste of Singur when he was forced to order US multinational Dow Chemicals yesterday to suspend construction work in the state following objections from local people that the project would affect the environment.
Deshmukh, on a tour of England and Switzerland to attract foreign investments, issued instructions from London that the company must keep its work on hold till a committee headed by a retired high court judge examined the grievances and submitted a report.
“He issued a directive that a committee headed by a retired justice should be appointed to examine the grievances of protesters and submit a report to the government within one month,” a spokesperson in the chief minister’s office said.
Dow is building a Rs 300-crore plant in Chakan, 220km from here and 40km from Pune, spread over 100 acres.
Deshmukh’s directive came after state marketing minister Harshavardhan Patil and Deshmukh’s close aide from Pune, Ulhas Pawar, telephoned him in London to say that the protests against Dow were growing and the government should intervene.
“We told the chief minister that there should not be any misunderstanding and that if people have grievances, they should be looked into,” Patil said.
Local villagers led by the Warkari sect — they are followers of Lord Vithal who strictly adhere to non-violence — have been protesting against Dow, alleging that the plant in the Chakan industrial area would pollute the Pune region.
They fear that chemicals and effluents used at the plant would pollute the Sudha river that flows nearby, creating problems for farmers.
The protesters intensified their agitation since January. They claimed the company and the Democratic Front government were “not transparent” about the exact nature of the plant.
The villagers dug up roads, put up blockades to stop construction material from reaching the Dow site and damaged temporary sheds in July.
Protests were staged all through the week and home minister R.R. Patil was gheraoed when he went to Pune.
Union Carbide, which is synonymous with the Bhopal gas leak that killed hundreds in 1984, is a subsidiary of Dow that claimed the plant in Chakan was a research and development facility.
Chemicals would be used in small quantities for research and be disposed of in a facility designated by the state government, Dow said.
The villagers also have spiritual reasons for opposing the project.
The Warkari sect, which reveres Sant Tukaram and Sant Dnyaneshwar, treats the region as sacred. Sant Tukaram is believed to have written his collection of abhangs on the banks of the Sudha and his birthplace, Dehu, is 5km from the project site.
Sant Dnyaneshwar’s birthplace, Alandi, is also nearby.
On Thursday, Shiv Sena executive president Uddhav Thackeray declared his support for the agitators. Sena workers staged protests in Dehu and Alandi yesterday.
Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar has denied that he had a role in fast-tracking the Dow project and has assured protesters that their grievances would be addressed.

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