Public Meeting against Dow Chemicals: A Report
Public Meeting against Dow Chemicals at Tilak Putla, Mandai on June 16, 2009
The Kick Out Dow Save Pune Movement, organised a protest public meeting against Dow Chemicals at Tilak Putla, Mahatma Phule Mandai, Pune in the evening on Tuesday, June 16, 2009. Nearly 100 activists of Lokayat, Pune Jilla Molkarin Sangathana and Shramik Mahila Morcha attended the public meeting. The public meeting had been organized to demand the immediate cancellation of permission given to Dow Chemicals to set up its Research and Development Unit at Chakan.
Speaking at the public meeting, Alka Joshi of Lokayat and a committee member of Kick Out Dow Save Pune Movement stated that despite the intense agitation by the people of Shinde Vasuli and nearby villages, and widespread protests by Warkaris all over western Maharashtra against the proposed Dow Chemicals plant, the Maharashtra government had not yet cancelled permission granted to Dow to set up its Research Unit. When the anti-Dow movement was at its peak, many political leaders including Ajit Pawar and other senior leaders of NCP had extended support to the agitation and had stated that Dow would not be allowed to set up its polluting research unit at Chakan. But it now appears that those statements were mere electoral gimmicks, and had been made keeping in mind the coming Parliamentary and Assembly elections. In reality, the government had not cancelled its permission to Dow to set up its plant. Dow had been asked to merely suspend construction of the plant. On June 9, the government reconstituted the committee set up to investigate the environmental impact of the plant. It is expected that the committee would give its report after the assembly elections. Since the committee is merely a rubber stamp committee, as all its members are government officials, and there is not a single independent expert on it, once the elections are out of the way, it is obvious that the committee would give consent to Dow to begin construction of its plant. And with the elections over, the government would then resort to strong arm measures to try and crush the movement of the Warkaris against the plant. Alka Joshi warned that the anti-Dow movement had taken deep roots in the entire region, and any attempt to restart construction of the plant would be fiercely opposed by the people.
Medha Thatte, general secretary of Shramik Mahila Morcha and committee member of Kick Out Dow Save Pune Movement, stated that this is not the first time the government is adopting such tactics. When the movement was at its peak, the government had set up such a committee which consisted of only government officials. The villagers of Shinde Vasuli and Kick Out Dow Save Pune Movement had boycotted the committee at that time saying that it was a rubber stamp committee, and their fears proved to be true as the committee went ahead and gave permission to Dow to continue its construction, without even seeing the project report of the Research Unit! Till today, the government has not revealed what is there in the project report. RTI applications have revealed that the Research Unit is going to do research with 20 hazardous chemicals. The use of these chemicals is going to generate more toxic chemicals. In any case, R&D is far more hazard prone than a normal manufacturing process, as here these chemicals are going into an unknown process with unknown results. So this plant is obviously going to be very hazardous. It is because of this that the government is illegally hiding the project report, even though by the rules of the industries department, all such project reports are supposed to be public documents and should actually be on the website of the Industries Department. Medha Thatte warned the people of western Maharashtra to be wary of government intentions, and not be taken in by the promises being made by the political leaders and government officials, and be ready to resume the agitation if there are any signs that Dow resumes construction at Chakan.
Neeraj Jain of Lokayat recalled the history of Dow, that it is one of the most notorious and polluting chemical companies of the world. He gave numerous examples of its manufacturer of toxic chemicals, such as DBCP which can cause liver, kidney and lung damage, and has made tens of thousands of workers who manufactured and handled this chemical permanently sterile; it has marketed the chemical chlorpyrifos so expertly that today it is one the world’s bestselling pesticides, even though it is well established that it causes neurological and developmental brain damage in children, and may result in blurred vision, fatigue, muscle weakness, memory loss and depression; the herbicide 2,4,D, which is proven to affect the nervous system, and causes many kinds of cancer and also results in birth defects. Yet Dow has never accepted that it makes toxic chemicals; even when its chemicals are banned in USA for toxicity, it has brazenly sold them in third world countries like India. It has fought in courts, and bribed politicians and officials to prevent its toxic chemicals from getting banned. This has happened in India too, where Dow has itself admitted that it has bribed officials to get three of its pesticides registered in India, one of which is Dursban, banned in USA for household use but which Dow continues to market in India as safe. It is also infamous for making illegal and banned war chemicals for the US military, which have been used by USA in its war on Iraq. Its record in India is no better. In 2001, Dow took over Union Carbide, the company responsible for the Bhopal Gas Disaster. Despite holding full ownership of Union Carbide, it is refusing to accept any liabilities for the disaster, even though people continue to die from diseases acquired from the gas leak. To the extent that Dow is even refusing to clean up the toxic wastes and the contaminated soil and groundwater around the plant site. More than 20,000 people living in the area have no alternative but to drink this contaminated water. The result: even today, deformed children are being born. Such is the history of Dow. And now Dow is trying to set up deadly research unit near Chakan, even though it was denied permission in Europe and USA to do so. Neeraj Jain warned the government of Maharashtra that the people of the region would not remain quiet to their machinations and would once again launch an agitation if any attempt was made to grant permission to Dow to restart construction at Chakan. He called upon the people of the region to come together and not just throw out Dow from Maharashtra, but from India itself.
Abhijit M., Vandana Vange, Ajit Penter, Balkrishna Sawant, Chandrakala Sapkal also spoke at the meeting. The public meeting ended with some inspiring songs calling upon the people to unite and fight injustice.