What is Dow Chemical Company doing to remove its liability for the waste dumped in the Union Carbide factory ?

Is Dow liable for the waste in Bhopal factory of Union Carbide? The chemical giant says no. It has filed an application asking the Madhya Pradesh High Court to delete its name as respondent to the case. It also wants the Union ministry of chemicals and fertilizers to withdraw their affidavit to court, which asks Dow to deposit Rs 100 crore for remediation costs of the polluted site. Letters accessed by RTI activists suggest that high level lobbying by the company to absolve it from the case and all liability. 

June 2006: Dow Chemicals seeks appointment with the Prime Minister’s principal secretary to discuss company’s ‘legacy issues’. The Department of Chemical and Petrochemical informs PMO that Dow has appealed to the Madhya Pradesh High Court asking for its name to be deleted from the case. The government has filed an affidavit on May 10, 2005 to direct Dow Chemicals to deposit the amount of Rs 100 crore as advance for environmental remediation caused by the toxic wastes lying at the UCIL factory site in Bhopal.

June 2006: Abhishekh Singhvi, counsel for Dow in the Madhya Pradesh High Court case and Congress party spokesperson gives an ex-parte opinion to the Prime Minister’s office whether Dow can be held responsible for and or liable for the Bhopal gas tragedy or leakage of 1984 and whether it can be held liable for the alleged contamination and/or consequent cleaning up of the Bhopal site. He persuasively argues that Dow cannot be held responsible in any event.

November 8 2006: Dow Chairman Andrew Liveris writes to India’s Ambassador in Washington Ronen Sen asking his help to resolve outside legacy issues for Dow in India. He explains that Dow has been sued in the Madhya Pradesh High Court and that the Indian government (by asking Dow to deposit Rs 100 crore or US$ 22 million against remediation costs) has taken a position adverse to the company. As the Indian government has agreed that Dow is not liable, the Ministry should now withdraw its application for these costs. “Certainly a withdrawal of application would be a positive, tangible demonstration that the government of India means what it says about Dow’s lack of responsibility in the matter.” Liveris also reminds the ambassador about the investment his company intends to make in India. 

November 10, 2006: Then Finance minister P Chidambaram writes to the Prime Minister on issues raised in the Indo-US CEO forum, including Dow’s legacy issues. Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission, Montek Singh Ahluwalia forwards to the Prime Minister the list of issues raised in the Indo-US CEO forum and the matter of Dow. The note explains that chairman Dow has said that it is not possible for the company to proceed with its proposed investments in India unless the liability issue is cleared. They have sought a statement from the government in the court clarifying that GOI does not regard Dow as legally responsible for the liabilities of UCC. 

November 26 2006: Tata group Chairman Ratan Tata writes to Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia saying that it is critical for Dow to have the Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizer withdraw their application for a financial deposit by them against the remediation cost. This is because this application implies that the government of India is ‘liable’ in the Bhopal gas disaster case. He also proposes that his company, Tata could take the lead and find funding for the remediation of the site.

January 2007: Ratan Tata writes to Prime Minister reiterating his proposal that the private sector could contribute to create a remediation fund for clean up of the site. 

January 2007: Prime Minister’s office in an internal note, responding to Ratan Tata discussion on the remediation fund makes it clear that the matter is subjudice and discussions will have to await the directions of the court. 

December 2008: Dow Chemicals admits in its 2008 annual report that present and future liabilities associated with asbestos cases against Union Carbide are expected at $2.2 billion. It takes on the burden of the Union Carbide liability on its books, even as it refuses to accept the same in the case of Union Carbide in India. 

December 1, 2009: 25-years after Bhopal gas tragedy. Waste continues to be dumped in the factory. CSE study finds traces of pesticides manufactured by company in the city groundwater. The case for removal of waste and deciding liability is being heard in the Madhya Pradesh High Court. 


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