Official Bhopal Response to Dean, CEG, Anna University
Bhopal Supporters around the world have written to the Dean of the College of Engineering at Anna Universiry in Chennai over the past few weeks, calling on the University to dump Dow’s sponsorship from their annual Guindy’s Kurukshetra Techfest. Although the University did not drop the sponsorship, they have had to answer to the public outcry from their decision to associate with the company.
Many actvists got a response from Dr. M. Sekar to their inquiries (exerpts are in italics below). The International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal has officially responded to his reply.
Sent via email – January 26, 2010
Dear Dr. M. Sekar,
I am writing to you on behalf of the Bhopal Group for Information and Action, the Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmachari Sangh, and the Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Purush Sangarsh Morcha, all of which are organizations devoted to the welfare of the victims of the December 1984 Union Carbide disaster in Bhopal. We have just come across your reply that you sent to Ms. Shaheen who was inspired by our friends in Chennai (some of who you have recently met) to write to you. We are very happy to find that you have taken the time to send in quite a detailed reply. Allow me to submit that there are a number of inaccuracies and quite a few hasty observations in your reply that need to be corrected to set the record straight. Below we have presented our views in response to your clarifications extracted from your mail to Ms. Shaheen. Please be assured that we have documentary evidence to substantiate each and every statement we have made below and will be happy to forward them in case you need any.
Before we deal with your response, we would like to point out that the three above-mentioned organisations contacted 56 Kurukshetra student organisers with a plea to allow us to talk to them about Dow and Bhopal, and urging them to dissociate with Dow, or at the very least, have a public debate on the matter.
In the first week of January 2010, Shweta Narayan, a long-time Bhopal volunteer, contacted you seeking an appointment for two Bhopali children who wished to meet you and brief you on their struggle to ensure that apathy doesn’t condemn this and future generations to a life with Dow-Carbide’s poisons. You declined their request to meet you. On 12 January, 2010, we were hoping to organise a lecture in CEG to educate students about the Bhopal gas disaster. This lecture failed to get your permission. On 21 January, 2010, we were forced to stand outside your gates and distribute pamphlets to students to educate them about Dow and Bhopal because we were prevented from entering the campus. The sequence of events pointed above highlights something far more dangerous than taking money from a “tainted” corporation. It shows that the University is actively preventing students from being exposed to diverse viewpoints. More dangerously, students may lose an opportunity to learn about Bhopal because of Dow’s presence as a sponsor and potential employer.
Now, we deal below with the allegations made by you in your response to Shaheen.
1. “I have not said at any point of time that I was not bothered about what happens elsewhere in the society and the institution did not care for the same. This false information has been spread to kindle passion and to create an outcry for immediate reaction. It is needless to say that this institution is one of the most responsible organizations which readily gives helping hand and supporting voice through its strong and dedicated student force.”
We are indeed very happy to note that the information about your uncaring nature is false. At the very outset this makes us hopeful that you will indeed pay attention to our representation on behalf of the people of Bhopal who are poisoned by Union Carbide and Dow Chemical.
2. The company in this controversy has been associating with our University for more than four years now, as can be verified from the website and from news items of leading newspapers in their archives.
It is indeed sad that a “one of the most responsible’ institution has associated itself with Dow Chemical Company which:
a. as 100% owner of Union Carbide Corporation responsible for the world’s worst industrial disaster in Bhopal, is sheltering a fugitive from justice.
b. is refusing to accept its legal liability, as owner of Union Carbide, for the clean up of the toxic waste and contaminated ground water in Bhopal.
c.is under investigation by the CBI for allegations of bribing Indian government officials and has already paid fine of US $ 350, 000 to the Securities and Exchange Commission in USA for this criminally punishable crime.
d.for over nine years is producing and distributing in India a dangerous pesticide named Dursban that it has had to withdraw from the US domestic market in 2000 because of its harmful effects, particularly on children’s brains.
We hope after receiving information on the above crimes and Dow Chemical Company’s other ongoing assaults on Indian peoples’ health, human rights and the environment you will seriously reconsider your association with Dow.
3. All these years nobody ever pointed out the misdeeds of the company and warned us.
We hope the knowledge brought forward recently by our friends in Chennai will inspire you to take positive steps toward improving the newspaper reading (or accessing news on Television or Internet) habits among the administrative officials, the faculty and the students. Since 2001, the year Dow Chemical took over Union Carbide, its misdeeds have been reported in the national and international media every year and often with much prominence. Unless there is a serious problem in the knowledge/information accessing and sharing system in your Institution it is seriously impossible that not one of the stories of Dow Chemical’s countless misdeeds have not reached you.
Also, you mentioned that a “Gandhian” spoke about Bhopal in your campus a year ago. We find it curious that even this did not educate the administration in your institution about the misdeeds of the corporation.
In any case, now that the knowledge on the misdeeds of Dow Chemical has reached you, we hope you will hold yourself responsible towards making positive changes within your institution.
4. Please note that we have not accepted the contribution after the controversy broke out. As in the previous years, this company was the first to respond to our request for sponsorship.
This points to the absence of an adequate informed screening process for accepting financial contributions. We wonder whether you have any criteria with regard to financial contributors and a system of screening to assess whether potential contributors pass the criteria. If you do have these in place, it would certainly be of interest to check whether indeed Dow Chemical’s contributions have gone through the system you have and the circumstances in which it was allowed to pass the criteria.
5. Having requested the sponsorship and accepted the contribution from a long standing associate, all of a sudden we cannot say that we do not want the relation because of the public outcry created by a group of people, even though, the demand made some sense.
We are indeed touched to know that the demands of our friends in Chennai made some sense to you. This we think is a very positive beginning. We certainly appreciate that a long standing association, even that with a criminal Company like Dow, can not be ended all of a sudden. However, we hope that now you will consider initiating the process towards ending your association with Dow Chemical. And we hope that you would do this by first educating your administration and the student community about Bhopal, Dow and the ways of corporations.
6. Every major company will have some hiccups here and there, during their operation – I am referring to the company’s problems in US and other places. That cannot be sighted as reasons for totally banning them.
We are pleased to note that you are aware of “some hiccups” in “every major company”. We also believe that all corporations have these “hiccups.” Additionally we make efforts to look in to these hiccups more closely and find that quite often these “hiccups” are actually due to criminal acts (punishable under the laws of the land) committed by the managers of the company. The whole idea of having a criteria for financial contributions and a screening process to implement this criteria is centered on taking an active interest in knowing whether hiccups of corporate contributors stem from corporate crimes. Where the hiccups can be related to criminal acts, the institution can avoid engaging with the concerned corporation.
7. The company claims that it is not directly responsible for the disaster and it has no legal or administrative binding for cleaning up. This point is not disputed by anybody. All of us are talking only about moral grounds on which the company should act.
As you must know, the gas disaster in 1984 and the ongoing toxic contamination in Bhopal are two distinct calamities emanating from the same Union Carbide factory. While Union Carbide is responsible for the gas disaster, as its current owner Dow Chemical is legally liable to pay for the clean up of the toxic contamination of soil and ground water.
As current owner of Union Carbide, Dow Chemical is legally liable to the Madhya Pradesh state government for the clean up in Bhopal because Union Carbide had built its factory and the waste discharge ponds on land taken on lease from the state government under the condition that the land will be returned in its original condition.
The Indian government continues to hold Dow Chemical legally liable and since 2005 it has moved an application in the Madhya Pradesh High Court asking for Rs. 100 Crores from Dow Chemical as an advance for toxic clean up in Bhopal.
Also, Union Carbide was proclaimed an absconder by the Chief Judicial Magistrate’s court in Bhopal for failing to appear in a case where it is charged with “culpable homicide not amounting to murder” and other offences. In 2001, when Dow acquired Carbide, they acquired a company guilty of the offence of absconding, and accused of having perpetrated the disaster. Dow has refused to force its 100 percent subsidiary to appear in court and demonstrate its respect and trust for the due course of law.
8. More importantly, neither the state government which has taken the possession of the land nor the Central government which has arranged the compensation want this company to carry out the further remedial measures.
As pointed out above The Indian government continues to hold Dow Chemical legally liable and has indeed taken legal action to ensure that Dow accepts and fulfills its legal liability. In fact it is the current opinion of the Indian Law Ministry that Dow Chemical’s investments in India could be affected due to its pending legal liabilities in Bhopal.
The Madhya Pradesh state government in its turn has sent a legal notice to Union Carbide following its sudden departure from Bhopal in 1998 without fulfilling its legal liabilities related to toxic contamination. This letter is part of judicial record in the Federal Court of USA.
9. This company has signed up a number of industrial ventures in this country which goes to show that they are doing their business as usual.
In 2005 the Indian Oil Corporation cancelled its contract with Dow Chemical on the ground that Dow Chemical had misrepresented Union Carbide’s technology as its own.
Since 2007-2008, students, faculty and alumni from Indian Institutes of Technology across the country have decided to boycott Dow Chemical’s financial contributions to the institutes and bar this company from recruiting in IIT campuses.
In 2008 the Chief Minister of Maharashtra announced that Dow Chemical will be stopped from building its Global R&D Centre at Chakan near Pune in response to protests by villagers of Shinde vasuli and Warkaris – followers of saint Tukaram.
10. My reply to the honourable lady who talked to me about this issue only explained the institute – industry collaboration angle.
11. In our own auditorium, through NSS, we have arranged a meeting last year, wherein a Gandhian and a victim of the tragedy, explained to our students the problems and plight of all the affected people.
It is very encouraging to know that you had arranged a meeting addressed by a Gandhian Bhopal victim. We are very certain that this person whoever, he/ she was must have spoken on the misdeeds of Dow Chemical.
12. We accept the response of all the people and thank them. But I do not know whether one can blame a reputed and tradition-rich institution to the level of denouncing it without verifying the facts and figures. Passions can be kindled easily but that must be directed in a proper direction.
To the best of our knowledge, the main objective of our friends in Chennai(some of who are alumni of College of Engineering) was to protect the name of Anna University from being sullied by unwitting association with a notorious criminal corporation. We are sure that they have carried out this exercise after full verification of facts and figures. We hope that once you have gone through the facts and figures presented by them and verified them for their authenticity you will agree that they have indeed kindled passions in the right direction and with the best interests of the College of Engineering and Anna University in mind.
13. There were also messages which declared obituary for the Dean as a person because of this issue. We appreciate the innovative idea of these people, in whatever taste it is.
We apologize for any inconvenience or offence caused to you by the acts of our Chennai firends and have only words of commendation for your large heartedness in appreciating the innovative ideas behind these actions. We are certain that in this spirit you will also appreciate that the awareness raising exercise initiated by the Bhopal campaigners has largely been very successful.
In closing we would like you to understand that we do not insist that you accept whatever we say as fact. We would like you to go through the documentary evidence and reach your own conclusion. Much of which are available online at www.bhopal.net and you can always ask for them from the honourable lady who talked to you or our other friends in Chennai.
Also, we believe it would be tremendously helpful in clearing the air around all the allegations and counter-allegations if you were to organise a public debate with Dow explaining itself. Needless to say, representatives of Bhopal victims’ organisations can arrange to be there to present our contentions. We look forward to a transparent process in keeping with the tradition of openness and fairness that CEG and Anna University stand for.
Thanking you and with best wishes,
Rashida Bee & Champa Devi Shukla
Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmachari Sang
Syed M. Irfan, and Nawab Khan
Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Purush Sangarsh Morcha
Member, Bhopal Group for Information & Action