New Delhi: Twenty-four years after a gas leak from a Union Carbide Corp., or UCC, factory in Bhopal killed thousands of people, the Union law ministry has said that Dow Chemicals, which acquired UCC in 2001 and has big plans for India, will have to pay for the toxic waste clean-up in the affected area and offer compensation “if there is any legal liability”.
The Madhya Pradesh high court is yet to give its verdict on a case on this.
The ministry has said that irrespective of the manner in which UCC has been merged or acquired by Dow Chemicals, if there is any legal liability, it would have to be borne by the company.
This information was obtained through a Right to Information application submitted by some Bhopal tragedy activists to the Prime Minister’s Office.
The law ministry also said that in view of the ongoing court case, “it cannot be said that the investment proposed to be made by the Dow Chemicals will be immune from the orders of the court.”
In 2005 the department of chemicals and petrochemicals filed an application, requesting Dow to deposit Rs100 crore with the court for site’s clean-up. In effect, the law ministry has said that till the matter is cleared by the high court, Dow Chemicals cannot be absolved of UCC’s liabilities.
Kailash Joshi, a Lok Sabha member of the Bharatiya Janata Party from Bhopal, said he was not aware of the law ministry’s note on the issue. “How are we concerned who has sold the company and who has bought it?” asked Joshi. “All we are asking for is compensation for those affected by the tragedy. And we are agitating for inclusion of all 56 wards in the Bhopal Municipal Corporation, instead of just 36 wards at present (as the area affected by the 1984 gas tragedy). It is for the government to decide who should pay.”
Dow Chemicals claims that UCC is a separate legal entity and that it has not inherited UCC’s liabilities.
Activists, however, say that Dow should be made liable for the damages. “There is always the threat that legal and moral issues will be set aside for financial considerations such as investments,” said Satinath Sarangi of the Bhopal Group for Information and Action.
Dow Chemicals plans to invest Rs300 crore to set up an R&D facility in Pune. In April this year, it also announced an investment of Rs600 crore in a plant at Dahej in Gujarat, in alliance with Gujarat Alkalies and Chemicals Ltd.
Ashish Sharma contributed to this story.