Dow’s Pune Project Clearance Repeats Mistakes that Caused Bhopal Disaster

PRESS RELEASE
Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmachari Sangh
Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Purush Sangarsh Morcha
Bhopal Group for Information and Action

A factsheet on Dow’s R & D project near Pune (Word doc)
NEW DELHI, 23 April, 2008 — The numerous irregularities, undue haste and lack of due diligence characterizing the preferential manner in which Dow Chemical’s projects are being cleared in India is a repeat of the mistakes that led to the 1984 Bhopal gas disaster, said Bhopal activists who are on their 26th day of dharna at Jantar Mantar. In Chakan, Pune, the Centre and State Governments have permitted Dow’s Rs. 300 crore project — allegedly a chemical R&D plant – near a residential area without reviewing any of the mandatory documents such as project report and environmental impact assessment. “Dow’s project was secretly cleared by the Pollution Control Board (MPCB) on the basis of a three-page proposal, and without reviewing the mandatory Industrial Entrepreneurs Memorandum by the Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation,” said Justice (Retd) Kholse Patil of Lok Shasan Andolan. Patil, and his colleague Vilas Sonawane, are leading the effort by villagers of Shinde Vasuli – the site of the Dow plant – to prevent Dow from setting up in Chakan. Villagers there stopped construction of the R&D plant in January 2008, and have held fast against the project despite police attempts to browbeat them into submission. “Let’s not forget that secrecy, haste, and the willingness to bend rules to accommodate multinational interests were essential ingredients in the recipe for the Bhopal disaster,” Patil said.
Pune-based engineers, contacted by Intelligent Pune – a local magazine that published startling exposes of the irregularities surrounding the Dow project – say that the MPCB has cleared this proposal in record time while more than 1500 industrial proposals that have fulfilled all criteria are still pending approval.
On March 12, the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board issued a fresh consent mandating Union environmental ministry clearance and submission of an Environmental Impact Assessment. But the Prime Minister, who heads the Ministry of Environment & Forests, has done nothing to insist that Dow submit the EIA and seek clearance before re-commencing construction at the site.
“The PM seems to have given his word to Dow Chemical, and that is probably what is preventing him from delivering on the promise he made to the Bhopalis,” said Bhopal Group for Information and Action’s Satinath Sarangi. Sarangi is one of 50 people who walked 800km from Bhopal to Delhi seeking an appointment with the Prime Minister. After nearly a month in Delhi, the agitating Bhopalis are yet to hear from the PM.
Experts suggest that what little is known about the project indicates that it is like a medium-size production unit that will generate hazardous wastes, use more than 38 toxic chemicals and engage in risky, often unpredictable experiments. Contrary to Dow’s claims of safety, experts have said that given the profile of chemicals proposed to be used, the development of pesticides cannot be ruled out. “We are not prepared to listen to pre-Bhopal era style of assurances that the plant is safe. We want to know what Dow will use, what it will manufacture, and what the impacts will be,” said Sonawane. Concerns over Dow Chemical’s alleged R&D centre are also fuelled by the company’s track record of developing war chemicals such as Agent Orange and Napalm, and the hush-hush surrounding this project.
Recently, the Maharashtra Industries Department denied an information request filed by RTI activist Shailesh Gandhi seeking copies of the project proposal, MoU and other communications. The Department claimed that divulging such information would affect the “scientific or economic interests of the State, relations with foreign State or lead to incitement of an offence.” The Department also said that the information includes commercial confidence and trade secrets, and that Dow had turned down a request to divulge the information. Curiously, a Review Committee set up by the Government in response to the protests of the villagers has also recommended that the Detailed Project Report should be shared with villagers. Another RTI request filed earlier by a volunteer with the Bhopal campaign in July 2007 is pending in the Maharashtra Information Commission since December 2007.
The shroud of secrecy clothing the project, and Dow’s association with Union Carbide, has catalysed Puneikars into coalescing a “Kick Out Dow; Save Pune” platform, bringing together prominent citizens, intellectuals, students, teachers and workers organizations. Today, the platform is organizing a press conference in Pune in solidarity with the Carbide-affected people from Bhopal who are on strike at Jantar Mantar.
For more information, contact:
Nityanand Jayaraman. Cell: 9717516003
Rachna Dhingra. Cell: 9717516005
c/o International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal
B5/136, First Floor, Safdarjung Road, New Delhi 110 029

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