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Why has Bhopal poisoner been given 2012 deal, MPs ask Coe

Written By krishna on Thursday, November 03, 2011 | 4:00 AM

Dow's contract gives it exclusive marketing rights to the main stadium in east London

Lord Coe faced tough questions from senior MPs yesterday regarding a lucrative Olympic contract awarded to a controversial American chemicals company that campaigners say will taint London 2012.

The shadow Olympics minister, Tessa Jowell, and the chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee, Keith Vaz, yesterday held private talks with Lord Coe, who was asked to justify the £7m deal with the Dow Chemical Company (Dow), which has been accused of failing to address one of last century's worst corporate human-rights disasters. Dow officials will be invited to attend further talks next week after Lord Coe failed to satisfy MPs that Dow does meet London 2012's ethical code.

Dow is the 100 per cent owner of Union Carbide Corporation (UCC), the company responsible for the 1984 gas disaster in Bhopal, India, which survivor groups say killed 25,000 people.

Dow's contract gives it "exclusive marketing rights" to the main stadium in east London. Its name will be adorned on the "wrap" around the stadium, guaranteeing the company a prominent profile next year.

Dow bought UCC in 2001 and denies any responsibility for UCC liabilities in Bhopal – which Locog accepts. Dow claims the $470m paid by UCC in 1991 for the disaster victims (currently contested in the Supreme Court) was final. Yet Dow and UCC are defendants in an Indian Public Interest Litigation case for clean-up the factory site. Last year, India's government blacklisted Dow AgroSciences India for five years for bribing government officials to expedite registration of three pesticides. Dow AgroSciences is a wholly owned Dow subsidiary.

Mr Vaz said: "The best course of action is for Dow to withdraw until the issues in Bhopal have been resolved, but I am happy to hear what they have to say. This is not the right kind of sponsorship for the world's greenest Olympics." Ms Jowell said discussions about Dow's involvement would continue.

Tim Edwards, a trustee of the Bhopal Medical Appeal, said MPs must beware of Dow's well-oiled PR machine. "Dow's public-relations work on Bhopal exemplifies the slippery art of evasion. But in rarely seen regulatory filings, Dow rather frankly describes Union Carbide as part of its global business... Dow seems to think it is above the law, and Locog appears to agree."

The meeting came amid growing pressure from a cross-party campaign to make Locog reverse its decision. Barry Gardiner MP, chair of Labour Friends of India, said: "I urge Locog to think again in order to protect the reputation of the Olympic legacy for Britain. Its failure to take the victims of Bhopal and ongoing contamination into account is particularly ironic given the UK Government had to spend £12.7m cleaning up the Olympic site, which was 'grossly contaminated' by toxic waste."

Eyewitness: The toxic legacy remains, 27 years on

Almost 27 years after the world's worst industrial disaster struck Bhopal, the abandoned gas factory and its toxic waste are part of daily life for tens of thousands of poor families.

Around the streets behind the factory, adults were either filling up pots and urns with clean water – through taps installed three months earlier – or else bathing their children. Campaigners won a hard-fought battle in 2004 when the Supreme Court ordered the state government to provide Bhopalis with clean water. And slowly water pipes are being fitted into the homes of all affected communities. But water is scarce, so the taps stop flowing after 30 minutes and families have to make stores last for 48 hours. This means most still rely on dirty ground water from hand pumps when the urns run dry. "We know the ground water is dirty, it smells funny, but what can we do?" said Habib Khan, 46.

Soon after the Union Carbide factory opened in the 1970s, waste was dumped in three solar evaporation ponds. Documents show the ponds were "almost emptied" through leaky lining by 1982. These have seeped into water sources over the past three decades; monsoon rains spread the toxins further.

Campaigners believe this is the cause of high rates of congenital deformities, cancers, respiratory and endocrine problems among communities to poor to move.

Dow, which bought Union Carbide in 2001, rejects claims that it inherited the company's liabilities, yet in the US it settled asbestos-related claims dating back to the early 1970s.

Nina Lakhani

Memorandum submitted to Prime Minister of India

On November 1, 2011 a delegation of Bhopal gas-victims submitted a Memorandum to the Prime Minister raising concerns of the gas-victims regarding unattended issues even after some 27 years after the disaster of 2-3 December 1984.

The Memorandum talked about the following isses:


1. The height of apathy towards the concerns of the Bhopal gas victims both by the Central as well as the State Governments can be gauged by the fact that till date only a fraction of the Bhopal gas victims have been issued health booklets. Issuance of health booklet is crucial for recording the medical history of a gas-victim in terms of diagnosis, investigations and treatment. In the absence of such health booklets and the consequent inability of a gas-victim to “prove” the degree of injury suffered by him/her has resulted in the gas-victim being denied adequate compensation based on the nature of the injury that was inflicted on him/her. As a result, the bulk of the gas-victims have been awarded compensation for minor/temporary injury although many of the victims had actually suffered serious/permanent injury and are still undergoing medical treatment or have since died due to the seriousness of the injuries that were inflicted on them by the Bhopal disaster. We again demand that health booklets be issued to all gas-victims without further delay.

2. That despite specific directions from even the Hon’ble Supreme Court, both the Central and State Governments have reneged from medical surveillance of all the gas-affected. No concerted efforts have been made to computerize the medical records of all the gas-related hospitals and network them for serving the interests of the gas-victims. The failure to develop a treatment protocol is yet another glaring omission. The quality of medial care provided at the gas-relief hospitals continue to be far from satisfactory. Moreover, the ICMR, which was supposed to restart medical research that it had unjustly discontinued in 1994, is yet to restart the process. We demand that these failures have to be rectified forthwith.

3. Although the Central Government had formally taken charge of the Bhopal Memorial Hospital & Research Centre (BMHRC), little changes have been brought about in the administration of BMHRC, which continues to give preference to non-gas-victim paying-patients instead of concentrating on providing the best treatment to gas-victims. Moreover, no action has yet been instituted against those guilty of conducting secret drug trials for multinational drug companies using gas-victims as guinea pigs. We demand the Central Government fulfill its commitment to running BMHRC efficiently.


4. There is no news, even after six months, about the status of the fresh request for extradition of Warren Anderson sent on 20.04.2011 to the U.S. Moreover, neither the Central nor the State Government has taken any step to expedite the fresh trial of Keshub Mahindra & seven other accused in the Bhopal disaster case under Section 304 Part-II of IPC. (Because the attempt by BGPMUS & BGPSSS to do so has been frustrated by the Sessions Court, the process for seeking appropriate remedy before the Apex Court is on.) The Central Government must also take all necessary steps to force the Dow Chemical Company (which took over Union Carbide Corporation (UCC), accused No.10 in the Bhopal disaster criminal case, in 2001) to stand trial.


5. The Dow Chemical Company is one of the official sponsors of the London Olympics of 2012, which is an insult to the gas-victims of Bhopal. The suffering of Bhopal continues unabated to this day (after 27 years) which has been accepted by the Group of Ministers in 2010. Apart from taking on the liability of UCC, the least that Dow Chemicals can do is to take steps for cleaning up the thousands of tons of toxic waste dumped and left in Bhopal by UCC. It is absurd that this rich MNC continues to neglect the cause of the Bhopal gas-victims while it has enough resources to sponsor the London Olympics of 2012. The Government of India must forthwith demand that the UK Government and the London Olympic Committee reject Dow Chemicals’ sponsorship. If they fail to do so, India must boycott the London Olympics.

There are various such issues that the Central Government has to address including misuse by the State Government of the funds granted by the Central Government for relief & rehabilitation; the inadequacy of the ex-gratia compensation announced by the Group of Ministers (GoM) on Bhopal, etc.

The Memorandum was submitted by Abdul Jabbar Khan on behalf of Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Udhyog Sangathan.
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