Dow Chemical Company, which owns the erstwhile Union Carbide Company that was behind the Bhopal gas tragedy of 1984, might have systematically sought to pre-empt the judicial outcome of the case by putting pressure on officials at the Indian Embassy in Washington, it has emerged.
This was revealed on Monday by non-governmental organisations that shared with media a response from the Indian Embassy to a Right to Information (RTI) application that they had filed in 2007. Earlier RTI applications filed in India had revealed a similar pattern of attempted influence by Dow on the Indian side.
The NGOs, including the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal and the Association for India's Development (AID), had gathered outside the Indian Embassy at the heart of Washington to protest against Dow Chemicals for its alleged role in the case.
In the RTI response, embassy Press Minister Rahul Chhabra appended a letter from Andrew Liveris, Chairman, CEO and President of Dow Chemical, addressing the former Ambassador, Ronen Sen. The letter to Mr. Sen followed shortly after meetings they held in New York on October 25 2006, as part of the U.S.-India CEO Forum.
Dated November 8 2006, a time when the Bhopal case was still under the consideration of the courts, the letter from Mr. Liveris notes: “Given the statements made by Government of India representatives in front of all meeting attendees that Dow is not responsible for Bhopal and will not be pursued by the GoI, it will be important to follow through to ensure concrete, sustained actions are taken that are consistent with these statements.”
In comments to The Hindu, Somasundaram Kumaresamuthusamy of AID — who had filed the RTI application in Washington — said, “It is shocking that GoI representatives has announced that Dow is not liable even though court is still deliberating on this issue.”
In the letter Mr. Liveris further sought to address the question of an application for a financial deposit filed by the Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers in May 2005. The Ministry in its application requested that Dow Chemicals deposit Rs.100 crores ($22 million) for environmental remediation costs.
On this matter Mr. Liveris said in the letter, “It follows logically from the GoI's statement regarding the non-liability of Dow, that the Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers should now withdraw its application for financial deposit against remediation costs. Certainly a withdrawal of the application would be positive, tangible demonstration that the GoI means what it says about Dow's lack of responsibility in the matter.” Further, the RTI application response makes clear that Mr. Liveris sought to link the resolution of the Bhopal “legacy issue” to further progress between India and the U.S. in terms of industrial ties and cooperation at such forums as the U.S.-India CEO Forum.
In yet another letter to the Indian Ambassador after the meeting of the Forum on September 14 2005, Mr. Liveris said “to facilitate the Indan-U.S. strategic partnership and to help chart a path forward, the following proposal is designed to help resolve a specific legacy legal issue — the Bhopal matter.”
Mr. Liveris in the letter goes on to outline as the first step of the proposal, “The GoI will implement a consistent, government-wide position that does not promote continued GoI litigation efforts against non-Indian companies over the Bhopal tragedy.” He added that “identified companies” should be invited to discuss their views directly with the relevant ministries of the GoI at the request of the latter. Linking this request for a softer approach to foreign companies facing liabilities to the broader issue of U.S.-India business ties, Mr. Liveris said, “One of the top areas cited as a barrier to mutual business success was legacy legal issues within India. Several companies face such issues, and all agree that legal matters which are unpredictable and changeable are a barrier for any company to feel certainty in the investment climate.” He said this was also raised in a discussion with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh by U.S. CEOs in September in New York. The Hindu is in possession of copies of three letters from Mr. Liveris' to Ambassador Ronen Sen.