S. Anand, Tehelka, November 23, 2007
Union Carbide is now Dow Chemicals. Rid of the tainted name, it’s being wooed by both the Tatas and the PMO, reports S. ANAND
We may overlook the element not listed on the chart… The missing element is the human element.
—from Dow’s ad campaign
ON DECEMBER 3, 1984, Tank 610 on the premises of the Union Carbide Corporation (UCC)’s factory in Bhopal, containing 41 tonnes of methyl isocyanate, leaked. According to the UCC’s own technical report, 24.5 metric tonnes of “unreacted MIC” escaped along with 11.79 tonnes of “reaction products”. None of the six safety systems at the plant was functional. The gas, in its trail, left 22,000 dead and 1,50,000 disabled.
Warren Anderson, then American chairman of UCC, was charged with culpable homicide in India. Since his brief arrest and bail in December 1984, he has ignored summons from the Bhopal district court. The trial is yet to begin. In July 2004, the US refused to extradite Anderson.
Meanwhile, in 2001, Dow purchased Union Carbide for $9.3 billion as a wholly owned subsidiary. Dow has refused legal or moral liability for the Bhopal disaster. In ovember 2006, Industrialist and Investment Commission chairman Ratan Tata wrote to the Planning Commission, asking the $46-billion chemical giant to be absolved of all liabilities. Why would Tata bat for Dow? Both Ratan Tata and Dow Chemicals president and CEO Andrew Liveris are on the India-US CEO forum (established in 2005 at the PM’s behest). The two met last October in New York. Protestors in Bhopal targeted Ratan Tata and sought to boycott all Tata products. Earlier, JRD Tata had condemned the arrest of Anderson.
Kamal Nath, Union Minister for Commerce and Industry, backed the idea of an “industryled remediation arrangement”. Such collusion at the highest level came to light when Bhopal activists obtained certain documents from the PMO under the RTI Act in June.
Congress party spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi is Dow’s counsel. Unselfconsciously, the PMO’s file on Dow contains Singhvi’s “legal opinion”. Cabinet Secretary BK Chaturvedi’s note of April 6 indicated where the PMO stood: “Given the scope for future investments in the sector, it stands to reason that instead of continuing to agitate these issues in court for a protracted period, due consideration be given to the prospect of settling these issues appropriately.”
In May, Reliance Industries Ltd got the green signal to buy suspect Union Carbide technology, routed via Dow, for their 9 lakh tonnes-per-annum polypropylene production facility in Jamnagar (Flirting with the Bhopal Villain, TEHELKA, June 11, 2005). Despite its claimed status as “absconder from justice” since 1992, the UCC has managed to maintain healthy sales of its products, processes and services in India.
Why should Indians, not just Bhopalis, be wary of Dow? During the Vietnam War, Dow became the sole supplier of napalm to the US military. Along with Monsanto, Dow also supplied a herbicide, known as Agent Orange, which was used as a biological weapon in Vietnam. A lawsuit filed in a US court by the Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange was dismissed in 2005. Dow has been successfully sued for various other excesses by Americans. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, Dow has some responsibility for 96 of the US’s worst toxic waste dumps.
In June 2006, Dow launched a clever ad campaign to clean up their image, in which it claimed to have discovered Hu, the Human Element — an accretion to the periodic table. Invoking Indra Sinha Animal’s People, Dow could well argue that the Bhopal victims are all animals. There is no Hu element in Bhopal, after all.
From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 4, Issue 46, Dated Dec 01, 2007