Nod to Dow’s R&D facility puts Maha in a tight spot

Times of India, April 28, 2008
NEW DELHI: The UPA government, it seems, has moved to implement a proposal backed by several key ministers, Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia and the Prime Minister’s Office that Dow Chemicals’ business be facilitated in India even while the government pursues a case against it in the Bhopal gas disaster.
The Maharashtra government has given a Rs 500 crore R&D facility of Dow the green light to be set up in Pune in what are seen to be questionable circumstances.
Without proper environmental assessment and project reports, the multinational chemical giant has been given permission to construct a set-up that would be using hazardous chemicals.
The government seems to have worked overtime to facilitate Dow’s entry. Papers secured through the RTI Act show that in September 2006, Dow asked the Congress and NCP alliance government to allot land for the Centre at Chakan village in Pune.
The Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation showed undue haste in getting a report on it in merely two days. The CEO of MIDC noted, “This is a prestigious project. Just get it examined from pollution point of view and put up in 7 days by October 3, 2006.”
By April 2007, it handed over possession of land to the company.
In the same month, Dow applied to the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) for consent under various environment laws without submitting a project report or an environmental impact assessment. Dow’s application contained minimal information the RTI document showed. But the MPCB cleared the proposal in six months time and allowed Dow to even manufacture chemicals not just research.
When contacted by TOI, the state environment secretary and head of the high-powered committee set up by the state government, Shyamlal Goyal, refused to comment.
But soon serious protests broke out at the proposed site. Reacting to it, the government set up a high level committee headed by the state environment secretary to review the entire proposal. The villagers continued to protest.
The MPCB, in face of serious protests by the local groups and Bhopal tragedy activists, quickly retraced its steps and issued a revised consent letter this time asking Dow to get the mandatory environmental clearances from the Union environment and forest ministry as well as other statutory clearances.
But, even as it demanded that the company obtain the environmental clearance after submission of an impact report, a risk analysis, a disaster control plan and other documents that would help monitor activities on site, it allowed the company to continue construction. Under the Environment Protection Act, no construction is allowed till the clearances are given.

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