Panel to decide Dow proposal fate as gas tragedy shadow still looms

Gireesh Chandra Prasad, Economic Times, April 25, 2008
NEW DELHI: US giant Dow Chemicals may have to wait for an independent commission’s views before it could firm up plans for mega investments in India. The government is expected to appoint a high-powered committee to comprehensively look into issues relating to the 1984 Bhopal gas disaster, including Dow’s liability to clean up the site.
The American chemical major, with the support of the US government and Indian industry, had been persuading New Delhi to take a view that it is not liable to clearing the site of the toxicity that persists there.
A group of ministers headed by Union human resources development minister Arjun Singh heard NGOs last Thursday, where the activists demanded an independent examination of all issues. The ministerial panel and the government of Madhya Pradesh are inclined to appoint a commission, sources told ET.
The government would decide the structure of the commission in consultation with the law ministry, the sources said. The proposed commission would also look into issues of relief and rehabilitation, lack of co-ordination between various central and state agencies and the day-to-day difficulties of the affected people. It would also have powers to summon stakeholders and give directions. The commission’s report would also be tabled in Parliament.
Letting an independent commission take a view on contentious issues would absolve the government of criticism for putting investments before human rights, especially when general elections and various state assembly polls are expected soon. It would also help the government to take a balanced view on other rehabilitation issues where different government agencies have narrow administrative interests.
Dow’s efforts to be absolved of any legal liability for the slip of Union Carbide Corporation, which it acquired in 2001, has not met with much success as the chemicals and fertilizers ministry has not supported it. The ministry had also asked the company to pay Rs 100 crore as interim advance to clean up the site, which the company has not paid.

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