While survivors of the Bhopal gas leak disaster have been demanding that Dow Chemical, the current owner of the Union Carbide Corporation, be held liable for the clean-up of the disaster site, the Ministry of Commerce and Industry granted approval to a project involving Reliance Petroleum Ltd and Dow Global even after apprehensions were expressed by the Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers. 

It now appears that the approval, granted shortly before the 2006 Indo-U.S. CEO forum, as a result of intense lobbying by Dow CEO Andrew Liveris, was expedited without addressing relevant concerns raised by the Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers. 

The issue was scheduled to be discussed as a “residual issue” in the second GoM meeting held in September. No progress has been reported on it so far.

Kamal Nath's letter to Manmohan

In a 2007 letter written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Industries Minister Kamal Nath stated that “with a view to sending an appropriate signal to Dow Chemical…and the U.S. business community, I would urge…to look at this matter in a holistic manner [the matter of Dow being liable for clean-up of Bhopal site].” 

In October 2006, Reliance Petroleum Ltd (RPL) was granted approval for a Foreign Technology Collaboration (FTC) with Dow Global Technologies, USA (Dow Global) from the Department of Chemicals and Petrochemicals in order to set up a polypropylene plant at the Jamnagar Special Economic Zone. 

The Commerce Ministry refused to reconsider the approval even after the Chemicals Ministry requested it to do so in the light of the Government of India's pending writ petition in the Madhya Pradesh High Court to hold Dow Chemical responsible for setting up the site remediation trust for the clean-up. 

In a Ministry of External Affairs document, obtained by Bhopal activists under RTI, it is mentioned that the FTC approval served to send Dow the right signals.  

“This [the FTC approval] was greatly appreciated as a signal that Dow was not blacklisted as an investor. However, they [Dow] have sought a statement from GoI in the court clarifying that GoI does not regard Dow as legally responsible for liabilities of UCC,” reads the MEA document. 

“Approving an investment by a company that has the blood of Indian citizens on its hands is condemnable,” says Satinath Sarangi of the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal. 

The Department of Chemicals and Petrochemicals had initially recommended the project (which involved the UNIPOL technology originally patented by the Union Carbide Corporation) for approval to the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP), Ministry of Commerce and Industry.  

Fund for clean-up

However, in March 2007, the Administrative Ministry of the Department of Chemicals and Petrochemicals, requested the DIPP to reconsider the approval and disallow any future investments by Dow Chemical till the company met the Government of India demand, pending in the Madhya Pradesh High Court, of depositing Rs.100 crore for the clean-up. 

The request letter argued for reconsideration of the approval since “in view of the larger issues connected with the tragedy and widespread groundwater contamination, it has to be ensured that corporate entities own responsibility and take remedial measures promptly.” 

However, the DIPP refused to reconsider the approval citing a six-month delay in response by the Department of Chemicals and Petrochemicals.