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Business

Another Offer To Clean Up Bhopal

Indian conglomerate proposes to restore infamous site

by Jean-François Tremblay
January 8, 2007 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 85, ISSUE 2

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Credit: Jean-François Tremblay/C&EN
Survivors of the Bhopal tragedy demonstrate against Dow in late 2005.
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Credit: Jean-François Tremblay/C&EN
Survivors of the Bhopal tragedy demonstrate against Dow in late 2005.

Tata Group, one of India's largest business conglomerates, reportedly has offered to coordinate the cleanup of the old Union Carbide site in Bhopal. This would mark the second time in two years that a major company has volunteered to remediate the site, where thousands of people died in a 1984 chemical leak.

Group Chairman Ratan Tata is said to have made the proposal in late November in a letter to India's Planning Commission. Details of the offer emerged a week ago in a report in the newspaper Indian Express.

Tata pointed out that he was willing to "lead and find funding for remediation of the site above and below ground," the newspaper reported. The Tata Group did not respond to C&EN's request for comment.

Survivors of the Bhopal disaster reacted furiously to the conglomerate's possible involvement. At a Jan. 3 press conference in Bhopal, activist groups called Tata "an antinational element" that is responsible for environmental damage throughout India. The activists insist that Dow Chemical and no one else must pay for the cleanup. They are also unhappy with Tata's assertion that restoring the site will allow Dow to invest in India.

Fearful of Bhopal-related asset claims, Dow has not invested in new plants in India since acquiring Carbide in 2001. Pressure from activists in 2005 led to the cancellation of a technology licensing deal between Dow and Indian Oil Corp.

Cherokee Investment Partners, a U.S. company that specializes in the remediation of contaminated sites, offered in 2005 to lead cleanup efforts in Bhopal on a philanthropic basis. Cherokee says it has no links with Dow.

Amita N. Poole, a Washington, D.C.-based lobbyist at the law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld and a friend of Cherokee CEO Thomas F. Darden, says Cherokee might collaborate with Tata by providing technical advice and money. Representing Cherokee, she will meet with Tata officials this week in Mumbai.

The government of the state of Madhya Pradesh took over the contaminated land from Union Carbide in 1998 and has performed little remediation work since then (C&EN, Jan. 23, 2006, page 23).

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