Protests force CM to order halt to Dow project work in Maharashtra

Domain-b.com, September 27, 2008
Mumbai: Chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh has ordered the Dow Chemical project at Shinde Vasuli, near Chakan, about 25 km from Pune, to stop work for a month, following intesified agitation against the project by local people.
The chief minister, who is currently on a European tour, took the decision keeping in mind the demand by followers of the Warkari sect and environmental activists to abandon the project, which, they claim, would pollute a nearby river and the entire area around the project.
The state government has also decided to appoint a committee headed by a former high court judge to study the objections to the project. The panel is expected to submit a report within a month.
Dow Chemicals and the government authorities say the company is setting up an R&D unit and have ruled out scope for pollution as no commercial production will be undertaken there.
While an R&D unit can cause greater damage to the environment than a production unit that uses proven technology, opponents of the project point out that the company has sought 100 acres of land, enough for setting up several production facilities.
”We do not want the polluting unit here and will not rest till it is wound up,” former Bombay High Court judge B G Kolse Patil, who is leading the agitation, said.
”But, if there would be no commercial production, why the company had sought 100 acres of land in that case?” he asked.
”We have adverse reports against the company from 54 countries and cannot trust its promises,” he added.
Rebel Nationalist Congress Party leader Shalinitai Patil and widow of former Maharashtra chief minister Vasantdada Patil led the agitation in Alandi, while party president and union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar appealed to the the people to refrain from the agitation.
He also gave a clean chit to the project and condemned the beating up of a Dow official and burning down of his car by the protesters.
Followers of the Varkari sect staged a protest in Chakan, Alandi and Khed sub-districts demanding closure of the unit.
The Warkari community, followers of saint Tukaram and saint Dnayneshwar, have been protesting against the Dow project since January this year as they fear the chemical giant’s operations would lead to severe enviromental crisis and pollution within the Dehu-Alandi belt, which they consider sacred.
The community members on Friday re-asserted that they would not allow Dow Chemicals, which is synonymous with Union Carbide, to set up any project in Maharashtra.
The US chemical multinational now owns the infamous Union Carbide that caused the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy that killed several thousands and left several million others permanently disabled.
The Union Carbide facility in Bhopal caused the release of 40 tonnes of deadly methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas in the worst disaster caused by a chemical factory.
The Dow R&D project, however, has received clearances from the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board and the National Chemicals Laboratory.

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