GoM not in favour of letting Dow off the hook

Akshaya Mukul & Nitin Sethi, The Times of India, June 22, 2008
NEW DELHI: Even though senior UPA ministers as well as deputy chairman of Planning Commission Montek Singh Ahluwalia have supported absolving Dow Chemicals of any legal liability in the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy case, the group of ministers on Bhopal headed by HRD minister Arjun Singh is not in favour of showing any leniency towards the chemicals giant.
Sources told TOI that while agreeing to set up a commission to address the issues of cleaning up of the gas leak site and public health, the GoM has rejected Ratan Tata’s offer to lead a trust of India Inc to pay for the clean-up.
The GoM, sources said, was of the view that Tata’s proposal was not merely an issue of funding the clean-up but contained an implicit condition that Dow be absolved of its liabilities. Rejecting Tata’s proposal means that the legal liability of Dow shall be dealt in courts and not by an executive order as the cabinet secretary had earlier suggested in a note.
Tata had suggested in 2006 to the finance minister and Ahluwalia that he was ready to head a Rs 100 crore fund to take care of the residual pollution and contamination issues. The letter came after an interaction of Dow officials with Tata at the US-India CEO Forum.
Dow wants the Rs 100 crore notice sent to it by the Indian government as a contingent payment for cleaning up of the tragedy site to be withdrawn as a precondition to it investing in India.
While several key Congress ministers had suggested resolving the issue in favour of Dow, the government has not been able to take a clear position.
Meanwhile, even as Prithviraj Chavan, MoS in the PMO, is in touch with protesting groups, the government has failed to ensure release of 23 Bhopal activists, including 21 women, who were arrested on June 9 after a demonstration outside the PMO. Chavan told activists that the PM has decided to set up a commission and carry on with the litigation against Dow.
Though Chavan has said the issue of extradition of Union Carbide officials is yet to be decided, the GoM, sources said, was of the view that extradition of Carbide officials would not yield anything more than two decades after the leak.
”They should not have been allowed to leave India then. In that case, we could have dictated terms. There is no point in extradition now,” a source said.
However, the GoM is yet to decide on the transfer of intellectual property of UCC that the commerce ministry had permitted despite court orders.

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