MAC: Mines and Communities

Tata's Bhopal

Published by MAC on 2007-04-20

Tata's Bhopal

[Ratan Tata, eminence grise of the eponymous company, has offered to bail out Dow Chemicals (successor to the notorious Union Carbide) over remediation costs for the Bhopal disaster. In response, Major General Vombatkere raises the question whether some sort of quid pro quo might have been arranged between the central government and Tata.]

From: Maj General S.G.Vombatkere, VSM (Retd), Vijayanagar, Mysore

To: Mr. Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Deputy Chairman, Planning Commission New Delhi

20 April 2007

Dear Mr. Montek Singh Ahluwalia,

The motives behind Tata Sons Ltd. Chairman Mr. Ratan Tata's offer to organize a clean-up of the contaminated Union Carbide factory site in Bhopal have been exposed in his personal letter dated 28 Nov 2006 addressed to you. As you are aware, expressing his support to Dow Chemicals (the corporate successor of Union Carbide which is a proclaimed criminal absconder in the Bhopal Court), Mr. Ratan Tata wrote that it is "critical for them [Dow Chemicals] to have the Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers withdraw their application for a financial deposit by Dow [Chemicals] against the remediation cost" for the contaminated site as it "implies that the Government of India views Dow as 'liable' in the Bhopal Gas disaster case".

Everybody knows that Union Carbide, and thus its corporate successor Dow, is liable for the industrial disaster, and the basis for Mr. Ratan Tata's implication regarding Dow's liability is therefore ill-founded.

In any case, Mr. Ratan Tata's extra-legal efforts to save Dow from liability for the Bhopal disaster that has killed 20,000 people since 1984 and rendered drinking water near the factory poisonous, is not in the best interests of the victims of the Bhopal gas tragedy. It raises doubt whether, as Chairman of the US-India CEO Forum, he is under pressure from US industry, especially since his letter to you follows Dow Chairman & CEO Mr. Andrew Liveris's letter dated 08 Nov 2006 to Indian Ambassador Mr. Ronen Sen in Washington, in which Mr.Liveris has the temerity to suggest what the Indian government needs to do, writing that "GOI [government of India] and the state government will need to work with the Court over-seeing site clean-up to assure that this effort will pass legal muster as the site's final remediation plan".

No doubt you would have been briefed by Mr. Vipul Shah of Dow India on the matter, as mentioned in Mr. Ratan Tata's letter.

When the High Court of Madhya Pradesh is apparently of the opinion that Government of India and Government of Madhya Pradesh should bear the cost of remediation equally, Tata Sons Ltd. offering to pay for remediation suggests a quid pro quo at some level. This does not, of course, mean that the shareholders of Tata Sons might approve such expenditure.

As you know, the Bhopal disaster has killed 20,000 people since 1984 and rendered drinking water near the factory poisonous. Mr. Ratan Tata's offer to clean-up Bhopal undermines the "Polluter Pays" principle of environmental law in India and sabotages the effort by the Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers to fix responsibility on the corporation that has caused such immense loss and suffering. The Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers has consistently taken its duty to the citizens of Bhopal seriously, and it would be tragic if they were forced to succumb to the pressure generated by Mr. Ratan Tata's initiative through your office.

As Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission, may I suggest that it is necessary for you to have taken action to prevent miscarriage of justice in a matter that is patently against the best interests of the victims of the Bhopal gas tragedy. Since the correspondence is of six months ago, you may have already taken action in the matter. I therefore request you to immediately issue a press statement as to whether or not you have supported the cause of Dow Chemicals in this matter.

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