19 January, 2008. NEW DELHI — Construction work at Dow Chemical’s Rs. 400 crore R&D centre in Chakhan, near Pune, was brought to a halt by local residents and farmers who have told the company that it will not be allowed to set up until it addresses the issues facing the survivors of the 1984 Union Carbide disaster. More than 500 women associated with the local 15-village Bhamchandragarh Bachao Warkari Farmer Sangharsh Samiti are protesting at the site of the facility for the fourth day now. Last December, the Shinde Vasuli villagers passed a resolution against Dow’s expansion in their area.
The R&D centre is reportedly part of Dow’s global strategy to outsource R&D from Europe and the US to avail the lower costs and less rigourous safety and environmental standards in India. The centre plans to develop new products in the areas of personal care, and paints and coatings, all of which are likely ton contain hazardous chemicals. Dow signed an MoU with the Maharashtra Government last October.
Dow’s attempts to establish itself in India have run into rough weather despite the eagerness of the Government to forgive Dow. Earlier this year, students of Indian Institutes of Technology successfully petitioned their institutes to bar Dow from recruiting engineers on campus. In 2005, public pressure led to the cancellation of a technology tie-up between Dow and Indian Oil. Bhopal survivors, whose 23-year old global campaign has pursued Dow Chemical across the world, have said that Dow will not be allowed to expand in India until justice is done in Bhopal.
Members of the Warkari Samiti and Bhopal survivors said that Dow Chemical is sheltering its subsidiary – Union Carbide – from disaster-related criminal proceedings. In 1992, the Bhopal magistrate declared Carbide an “absconder” after the company ignored summons issued by the Court in a matter where it is charged with culpable homicide for the deaths of 1000s of Bhopalis. The Warkari Samiti has also said that they will not allow polluting industries and activities that develop toxic products to operate in their area. They pointed out that Indian scientists discovered that Union Carbide had engaged in chemical warfare experiments at its R&D centre in Bhopal in the guise of research into insecticides.
“Dow is a criminal company that is responsible for the continued suffering of gas victims and residents of Bhopal. Dow will come to realize that communities will make it impossible to expand its business in India unless it addresses the Bhopal legacy,” said Vilas Sonawane of the Warkari Samiti. Even now, Dow’s nearly 125 researchers are working in subterfuge out of a rented facility at a secret location.
“Following the laudable stance taken by young IIT students, people should shun employment with Dow. I appeal to the professionals already employed in Dow to stand with the Bhopalis and resign their jobs in protest,” said Alka Joshi, member of Pune-based voluntary collective Lokayat. Joshi, accompanied by eminent Pune citizens like Justice (Retd) Kholse Patil, led the action to stop construction at the Dow site on 17 January.
Protesters have condemned the Indian and Madhya Pradesh Government for failing to pursue Dow Chemical to clean-up the contaminated soil and groundwater in Bhopal. More than 25,000 people are exposed to Carbide’s poisons through groundwater that was contaminated by the toxic wastes left behind by the company. Right to Information documents reveal that the Prime Minister is personally investing in attempts to exonerate Dow in return for investments by the American giant.
For more information, contact:
Rachna Dhingra (Bhopal): 9826167369
Alka Joshi (Pune): 094223119129
Shalini Sharma (New Delhi): 09380488384