Representatives of five NGOs (non-government organizations) working for the welfare of the survivors of 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy, the world’s worst industrial catastrophe, have accused the Government of India of kowtowing to US government pressure to serve the interests of Union Carbide and Dow Chemical in Bhopal, the capital of the state of Madhya Pradesh where the incident took place about 29 years ago.
Addressing a press conference here yesterday the representatives of the NGOs, while citing recently released documents from Wikileaks’ “Kissinger Cables,” said former Commerce Minister Kamal Nath and Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia welcomed Dow investments in India and contradicted India’s stated position on Dow’s liabilities.
A cable sent by Deputy Chief of Mission in New Delhi Steven J White on July 27, 2007 says: “During the CEO forum event in October 2006, Indian officials including Commerce Minister Kamal Nath and Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia stated that they welcomed further Dow investment in India and did not believe that Dow was responsible for the disaster site clean-up.”
US Ambassador David Mulford is reported to have urged the government to “drop its claims against Dow” in a cable sent on Sept. 18, 2007. In reply Ahluwalia assures the ambassador that the government does not hold Dow responsible for the clean-up but is unable to withdraw its claims against Dow because of “active and vocal” NGOs. According to the cable, Ahluwalia then advised the ambassador to discuss the issue of Dow Chemical’s Bhopal liabilities with Finance Minister Chidambaram.
The Bhopal organizations said the available cables indicate that the government has consistently short-changed Indians and Bhopalis and served the interests of Union Carbide Corporation (UCC). As early as in the 1970s, the government compromised on principles related to foreign exchange to help UCC retain majority control over Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL).
The organizations stated that a cable sent by Deputy Chief of Mission David T. Schneider from the US Embassy in New Delhi on Feb. 4, 1975 shows that the Indian government allowed Union Carbide, USA, to bypass the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act (FERA) and obtain loans from American Exim Bank instead of an Indian financing agency.
Another cable of Sept. 11, 1975 from US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to the US Embassy in India shows the support the US government gave to Union Carbide, USA, in securing loans from the US Exim Bank for its Bhopal operations.
The organizations presented copy of a cable sent by then US Ambassador in India William Saxbe on April 20, 1976 that expresses satisfaction at the dilution of FERA guidelines so that UCC can continue to hold majority stakes in its Indian subsidiary.
The representatives of five organizations — Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmchari Sangh, Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Purush Sangharsh Morcha, Bhopal Gas Peedit Nirashrit Pensionbhogi Sangharsh Morcha, Children against Dow/Carbide and Bhopal Group for Information & Action — stated that the Wikileaks documents highlight the historical roots of the continuing injustice in the case of the world’s worst industrial disaster in Bhopal.
They said that the injustice in Bhopal is being perpetuated by the support of the US and Indian government to UCC and Dow Chemical as well as that by “traitors” such as Kamal Nath, Chidambaram and Ahluwalia.
It may be recalled here that on the intervening night of Dec. 2-3, 1984 UCC pesticide manufacturing factory had spewed poisonous Methyl Iso-cyanate gas whereby 3000 people had perished virtually instantly and over the years more than 25,000 have died and the sad saga is still continuing uninterruptedly. About half a million are suffering from the side effects of the poisonous gas; and several thousand people have been maimed for life.