Rina Chandran, Reuters, February 2nd, 2009
MUMBAI (Reuters) – India’s western Maharashtra state has ordered a Dow Chemical research center be built at a new location after villager protests over pollution concerns, a newspaper report said, the latest in a series of farm and industry showdowns.
However Dow, which has operated in India for more than 50 years and markets chemicals for paints, pharmaceuticals, automobiles and cosmetics, said it had not received a directive from the state so far.
Construction of the unit of Dow Chemical Co, the largest U.S. chemical maker, was suspended last September while the state government reviewed concerns over pollution in Chakan village, an automotive hub near Pune city.
Villagers, who have protested against the research center for more than a year, attacked the construction site last July and set fire to an office and company vehicles.
“We will not have the company at this particular site,” Ashok Chavan, the state’s chief minister, was quoted as saying by the Monday edition of the Indian Express.
A decision on a new location will be made after a state panel submits its report in a few weeks, Chavan was quoted as saying.
But a statement from Dow said: “While we remain cautiously optimistic, we cannot speculate, nor comment further until we have received official notification from the state government.”
Dow has said pollution concerns about its proposed global R&D center, which was to be operational in 2008 and house about 500 engineers, were unfounded. Dow has said it would spend about $100 million on the center.
Protests against giving up land for factories of local and multinational firms have been growing in India, where more than two-thirds of the population depends on agriculture for a living.
But activism against a science and technology investment sends a “very dangerous signal,” the head of Dow in India told Reuters in an interview last month.
Victim groups are calling on Dow to provide compensation to thousands of people affected by a catastrophic industrial accident in Bhopal in central India, when tons of toxic gas leaked from a Union Carbide pesticide plant in 1984.
It killed nearly 8,000 people from gas-related illnesses. Tens of thousands also fell ill from what is one of the world’s worst industrial disasters.
Dow took over Union Carbide after the accident. There is still debate over who should clean up the site.
(Reporting by Rina Chandran; Editing by Krittivas Mukherjee and Jerry Norton)