Noose of clean-up liability around Dow draws tighter; good start, say Bhopalis

The Ministry of Chemicals has assured Bhopal survivors that they will explore legal options to implead Dow Chemical’s Indian subsidiaries to enforce the company’s liability for clean-up in Bhopal. In a meeting with six Bhopal activists, including four who had walked 800 km from Bhopal to Delhi, on 29 March, 2006, the Secretary to the Ministry of Chemicals Ms. Satwant Reddy said: “We have had communications with Dow. They say that ‘if we clean up in Bhopal, that will set a precedent for us to clean up in other countries where they have taken over smaller chemical companies.’”
The Ministry of Chemicals is the nodal ministry for issues emanating from the Bhopal disaster. Last year, the Ministry submitted an application in the Madhya Pradesh High Court asking Dow Chemical to deposit Rs. 100 crores for clean-up. The High Court is currently hearing a public interest litigation regarding clean-up of the Bhopal site. Exploring options, Ms. Reddy said: “What if we asked Dow to clean up on humanitarian grounds instead of pursuing them legally?”
Dismissing humanitarian gestures as a non-starter, the Minister of Chemicals Mr. Ram Vilas Paswan, who separately met the Bhopal delegation on 29 March, assured the Bhopalis that he would explore legal options to implead Dow Chemical’s Indian businesses to enforce the company to pay for clean-up.
Coming as it does less than two months before Dow’s Annual Shareholder Meeting in Midland, Michigan, the information revealed by the Ministry strengthens the resolution floated by Dow shareholders concerned about the fate of their stocks in light of unresolved issues, particularly toxic waste clean-up, in Bhopal. The New York State Common Retirement Fund and the New York City Fire Department Pension Fund have jointly filed a resolution asking Dow to report on initiatives it plans to take to deal with the environmental health issues in Bhopal. At the 2006 AGM, Dow will field a total of four resolutions challenging it on various aspects of environment, health and human rights.
In addition to paying for the clean-up, Bhopalis are demanding that Dow Chemical should meet the recurring costs of running a national commission on Bhopal to address long-term medical and economic rehabilitation, pay for the Bhopal memorial and water supply, and suspend business in India until they produce Union Carbide to face trial. Dow Chemical has two subsidiaries and several joint ventures in India, and is looking to considerably expand its petrochemical business in the country.
On 25 March, 2006, 39 victims of Union Carbide’s poisoning, including several who are affected by drinking groundwater contaminated with Carbide’s poisons, reached New Delhi after a 33 day walk “for justice and a life with dignity.” They have declared that they will remain in Delhi until the Prime Minister meets them and addresses all their demands. Padayatra – as such marches with a mission are called – are usually undertaken as a form of protest by aggrieved people to insist upon the truth. The refusal of Dow Chemical and the Government of India to address the long-standing demands of the Bhopalis has forced at least 12 of them to announce an indefinite fast starting 3 April, 2006, until their demands are met. “Truth is on our side when we say that we have been aggrieved and that Union Carbide and its new owner Dow Chemical are responsible for our plight. We don’t see the Dow CEO or the Indian Prime Minister going on an indefinite hunger strike to underscore their claims that the Bhopal issue is long-resolved,” said Syed M. Irfan, an activist-survivor who has proposed to go on the hunger strike.
Irfan and at least four other Bhopal victims have been diagnosed as medically unfit to undertake a fast of this nature. “The Prime Minister will not meet us even after we have walked 800 km to Delhi. He doesn’t care if we live or die. But we will prevail even if it means a few of us have to undertake an indefinite fast,” said Rachna Dhingra, a key Bhopal-based supporter who will also be participating in the indefinite strike.
The Padayatra and proposed hunger strike have already evoked widespread consternation among supporters of the Bhopal campaign worldwide. More than 1600 faxes have already been sent to the Prime Minister’s office urging him to meet the survivors and address their demands. Three US cities, including San Francisco, Seattle and Boston have passed resolutions in support of the Bhopal demands. Twenty US Congresspersons, led by Congressman Frank Pallone, have written a strongly worded letter to the Indian Prime Minister requesting him to take action against the US multinationals.
“The conduct of American corporations outside the US is a long-standing concern of ours, especially with regard to environmental protection standards. . .It is outrageous that the CEOs of Union Carbide and its successor, Dow Chemical, have yet to be brought to justice. . .It is disappointing that the Indian Government has been reticent (sic) to pursue Union Carbide and Dow Chemical for their civil and criminal liabilities in the country,” the letter states.
For more information, contact: Nityanand Jayaraman: 9811138987 or 09444082401. Or Pragya Vats: 9868424692. Email:
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Issued by:
Champa Devi Shukla
Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmachari Sangh
93031 32959
Syed M Irfan,
Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Purush Sangharsh Morcha
93290 26319
Shahid Noor
Bhopal ki Aawaaz
98261 82226
Satinath Sarangi, Rachna Dhingra,
Bhopal Group for Information and Action
98261 67369

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