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Bhopal shadow on India-US business ties

delhi Updated: Nov 10, 2011 23:29 IST
Shishir Gupta
Shishir Gupta
Hindustan Times
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The 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy continues to haunt India’s bilateral business ties with Washington. Andrew Liveris, chairman and CEO of Dow Chemicals, parent company of Union Carbide Corporation, is expected to be dropped from the reconstituted Indo-US CEOs Forum this month.

The forum, which will be reconstituted this month after a mandatory tenure of two years, will now have 26 members instead of the present 24. India and the US will nominate 13 tycoons each.

But Liveris faces the axe after a Bhopal court convicted eight persons on June 7, 2010 for the disaster. The accused included former Union Carbide India chairman Keshub Mahindra and they received a two-year jail term for criminal negligence leading to death.

As the head of the $54 billion conglomerate, Liveris had been part of this high profile group since its inception in July 2005.

But days after the Bhopal court's verdict, Liveris skipped the June 22, 2010 meeting of the forum. Liveris did not attend the September 2011 meeting of the forum either.

At the time, a Dow spokesman made light of his absence from the meeting. But the fact is that New Delhi had conveyed to Washington through diplomatic channels that his presence would lead to unnecessary controversy in India.

The gas disaster of December 3, 1984, which cost around 15,000 lives since, continues to evoke strong public sentiments against Union Carbide.

Even though Dow refused to be held liable for the Bhopal tragedy, since it took over Union Carbide in 1999, the company wanted to contribute to the remediation efforts in Bhopal.

In October 2006, Liveris approached the forum for remediation efforts and on November 8, 2006, the company wrote to the Ministry of External Affairs to this effect.

But the initiative failed due to a public uproar and the government insisted that Dow be responsible for cleaning the site and the rehabilitation efforts.