Government tries to cleanse Dow investment of Bhopal stain

NEW DELHI: In a bid to clear Dow Chemicals, the American giant that took over Union Carbide in 2001, of civil liabilities in the Bhopal gas tragedy — said to be the worst industrial disaster in the world — the Centre is making a concerted effort for an out-of-court settlement with it.
The victims of the tragedy may find this hard to believe, but documents with TOI show that the PMO, backed by finance and industry ministers and the vice chairman of the Planning Commission are trying to find ways to clear Dow Chemicals of any legal liability, so that the company agrees to invest in India.
Key issues of the 1984 disaster remain unresolved. While direct victims of the poisonous gas leak have been compensated, toxic waste from the plant in a 7-hectare area is said to have contaminated Bhopal’s ground water.
While the case is going on at the Jabalpur bench of the Madhya Pradesh HC, Union Carbide was bought over by Dow. With that, it would have taken over Carbide’s civil liability. In the Jabalpur court case it is named as one of the respondents and the chemicals and fertiliser ministry has raised a demand of Rs 100 crore from Dow to clean up the contaminated factory site in Bhopal.
Faced with this, as well as the prospect of higher demands if the court holds it responsible for the ground water contamination, Dow first offered in 2005 to invest in a giant petrochemicals hub, covering 250 sq km, and then showed its reluctance to do so, citing the potential risk to its investment should liability come on it from the Bhopal case.
This is where, it appears, government machinery got whirring to allay Dow’s fears by seeking to reach an out-of-court settlement and thus pave the way for the investment in the petrochemicals hub. Documents acquired through an RTI application show a series of rapid-fire moves.

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