In Roshanpura Square, New Market today, Bhopal groups exposed the behind-closed-doors collusion between PS Dubey and the giant US equity fund Cherokee Investment Partners and made clear their determination to smash plans for a cosmetic clean-up of the Union Carbide factory that would also enable Dow to escape its liability. The Bhopalis held banners that highlighted a chain of influence starting with Dubey and stretching back to Carbide itself, via Dow and Cherokee.
“aamchaa na tumchaa – neither ours, nor yours – dube cherokee kaa chamchaa – dube is cherokees lackey [literally spoon]”, went the furious chants at Roshanpura today.
PS Dubey was confronted in the US last week by the ICJB when he appeared alongside executive officers of the redevelopment company Cherokee for a public talk about remediation plans for the Carbide plant. An official of the Madhya Pradesh Pollution Control Board (MPPCB) confirmed that Dubey appeared in an unofficial capacity, citing ‘personal reasons’ for his trip to the US. During his tenure as MPPCB chairman, Dubey has been found – amongst other questionable practises – to have allowed environmentally polluting companies to resume production under highly dubious circumstances. It must be remembered that Dubey’s predecessor, VK Jain, served jail time after being caught with assets around $4 million in excess of his known income. Last year, Dubey presided over initial ‘clean-up’ activities that hospitalised over 100 local residents.
A banner shows Dubey’s entire absence of regard for worker and public safety
Though recent press suggests that State officials have already paved the way for Cherokee’s involvement in remediation plans for the Carbide site, the protest also underlines the ICJB’s determination to prevent Cherokee Investment Partners and its affiliates from having any future role whatsoever.
Cherokee is in the for-profit business of indemnifying polluters: on its website, Cherokee promises those saddled with a polluted land problem that they will be able to evade all financial and legal responsibility for any contamination.
Statements by CEO Tom Darden, that pitch the potential cost of a clean-up low even before an adequate assessment of contamination has been made, suggest that Cherokee will also underplay the extent of contamination in Bhopal. Further evidence from its activities in the US reveal that Cherokee will win contracts over environmentally preferable schemes in districts where it greases enough palms. Once a contract is won, Cherokee will meet the most minimal local standards of remediation, and is today leveraging its considerable force in the US House of Representatives to insure itself against further liability for remediation in the event that the job was not done satisfactorily. Even in the most legislatively developed countries, Cherokee finds it easy to traduce environmental standards.
In India, corruptible politicians, poor and easily breached environmental standards and the impossibility of pursuing Cherokee for an inadequate remediation makes for easy pickings for this ‘vulture capitalist’. And, under the angelic cover of philanthropy, Cherokee’s dash for Bhopal could look like it was dreamt up in a Dow strategy meeting.
Which it quite probably was.
Information has reached Bhopal that, concurrent with negotiations with Dubey and other Indian officials, Cherokee has also kept several notable special interest parties well in the picture: Citibank, Tata and, yes, The Dow Chemical Company.
All three business and financial behemoths are intimately involved in the US-India CEO Forum, a phalanx of powerful facilitators recently involved in private discussions with Prime Minster Manmohan Singh concerning reform of state legislature to further enable liberalisation of the Indian economy. Proposals put forward by the US-India CEO Forum apply a pointed pressure on Indian officials: “Specific focus on resolving legacy issues such as those impacting Dow/ Bhopal tragedy of 1984 and the Tamil Nadu IPPs would send a strong positive signal to US investors.”
Within weeks of these proposals, officials in the US govt were dutifully repeating the party line: ‘At the same time, Bhatia said USTR was aware that many American companies have liability and insurance concerns about doing business in India after the 1984 gas leak at a Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, which killed an estimated 3,800 people and disabled thousands more.
“We’ve raised those concerns with the Indians. I’m hoping that they will be addressed to the satisfaction of our companies …,” he said. “At the end of the day, India has worked very hard for this deal and … I would assume is not going to want their own domestic corporate laws to stand in the way of them actually benefiting meaningfully.”‘
Cherokee, then, represents a ‘specific focus’ to the satisfaction of both Dow, the wider US corporate community and those Indian officials interested in a payday and/or deeper economic ties with their masters in the US. Today, Bhopal declared the game to be up.
“Dow fronts for Carbide, Cherokee fronts for Dow, Dubey fronts for Cherokee”
Protest banners were later also raised at an exhibition organized by an environmental protection organisation at which the Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister was giving a speech on the environment. The protestors later presented the Chief Minister with a memorandum containing five demands:
1. Supply contamination-affected communities with clean water immediately.
2. Give assistance in the assessment of the depth and spread of the contamination.
3. Provide assistance in remediation and clean up programmes.
4. Reject Cherokee’s proposal and keep them away from any participation in assessment/clean up.
5. Sack the chairman of the Madhya Pradesh Pollution Control Board, PS Dubey.