RTI info shows ministry felt Dow also liable for Bhopal tragedy

Information obtained under the RTI Act shows that at least a section of the Government believes that Dow Chemicals which bought the Union Carbide is not "immune" to the responsibility of paying compensation to the victims of the 1984 Bhopal gas leak tragedy.

The activists fighting for the gas tragedy victims said on Monday that a law ministry document obtained through the RTI Act last week from the PMO held that "irrespective of the manner in which Union Carbide has been acquired by Dow Chemicals, if there is any legal liability it would be borne by Dow Chemicals".

"We are happy to say that the law ministry is saying something we have been saying all along," said Satinath Sarangi of the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal.

The activists want Dow Chemical, owner of the former Union Carbide, to pay for the clean-up and health damages before starting any new business in the country. But the Dow says all liabilities were settled in 1989 when Union Carbide paid $470 million to the Indian Government. But local court cases in India have since challenged Dow's stand and called for more compensation for victims as well as for environmental damage.

Last April, Dow Chemicals signed a joint venture agreement with Gujarat Alkalies and Chemicals Ltd to set up a 200,000 tonnes per annum chloromethanes factory in Dahej, Gujarat. This is Dow's first major investment announcement since its acquisition of Carbide as it has been shying away from large investments in India, both because of its perceived risks and the hostile reaction to its entry from various quarters.

The gas leak, described as the world's worst industrial accident, occurred when a storage tank at a Union Carbide India pesticide plant spewed deadly cyanide gas into the air in Bhopal, killing more than 3,500 slum dwellers immediately.

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