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Dow’s Olympics deal: Govt steps in, tells IOA to raise issue with organisers
Vibha Sharma & MS Unnikrishnan
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, December 5
Relentless efforts by survivor groups to flag the Bhopal gas tragedy today prompted the government to ask the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) to raise the issue of the 2012 London Olympic Games’ sponsorship deal with Dow Chemical.

Many hold Dow responsible for failing to give adequate compensation to victims of the 1984 industrial disaster. Activists say 25,000 persons were killed in the immediate aftermath of the accident and in ensuing years, and about 1 lakh persons exposed to the gas continue to suffer today from ailments that range from cancer, blindness to birth defects. Dow owns Union Carbide Corporation, the operator of the chemical factory where the tragedy occurred.

Soon thereafter, IOA acting president Vijay Kumar Malhotra responded saying that he would convey India’s concerns to the organisers. The IOA, Malhotra said, had received representations from several former Olympians and NGOs protesting the London Games link with Dow Chemicals. Dow has been asked to foot the bill of a temporary decorative wrap over London's Olympic Stadium.

“We understand the feelings of the players, government and the NGOs. We will discuss it seriously and see what we can do at our level,” Malhotra said.

Activists, however, are not impressed by this “token exchange of words and gestures”. One of the leading campaigners, Satinath Sarangi told The Tribune from Bhopal that the protest should have been stronger.

“Just registering a protest is not enough. To my mind it is just a token protest. The government should categorically state that it will make no compromise on the matter of a corporation which is responsible for the poisoning and death of thousands of people,” he said.

Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan too has been urging the Centre to boycott the sporting extravaganza. Chauhan has said that instead of sponsoring the Olympics, Dow Chemical should spend that money on Bhopal survivors.

His party colleague Malhotra acknowledged the “outcry” but added that the IOA was bound by the Olympic charter and its role confined within the framework of the agreement.

The Sports Ministry letter says: “The matter of Dow's liability, in respect of the Bhopal gas tragedy victims, is sub-judice and the Government of India has itself filed a suit against the company. Strong public sentiments exist in this matter and a number of eminent ex-Olympians have also raised concerns.”

Activists call the $470 million settlement in 1989 between the government and Union Carbide paltry and hold Dow responsible for failing to live up to its corporate responsibility by ignoring the “just demands” of thousands affected by the leak of 40 tonnes of lethal lethal methyl isocyanate gas on the fateful night of December 2-3.

The government has filed a curative petition in the Supreme Court seeking a review of the settlement and additional compensation of $1.2 billion from the American corporation, but activists are demanding more.

Survivors’ organisations are clear that if the London Olympics organising committee does not reject Dow Chemical’s sponsorship, they will organise a parallel ‘Bhopal Olympics’ where children with congenital disabilities caused due to Union Carbide’s poisons and Vietnamese children hurt by Dow's Agent Orange will perform.

Irresponsible, say volunteers

Activists term the Bhopal tragedy a case study of “total lack of corporate liability”. They say that even after the leak, the company did not even provide full information on the nature of poisoning. Doctors with no prior experience in dealing with anything similar were left groping in the dark.

The Dow Story

Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) was one of the first American companies to invest in India

The Bhopal plant was owned and operated by Union Carbide India Limited with UCC holding just over 50% of the stock

After the accident, UCC downplayed damages and diverted attention and liability on the local company to escape criminal and civil liability

Later, it absolved itself completely of all responsibility by merging with the $9.3-billion Dow Chemical, one of the world’s largest chemical companies.





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