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    Dow Chemicals secretly pressurising Indian govt: Amnesty

    New York, April 14 (PTI): Alleging that Dow Chemicals is secretly pressurising Indian government to help rid the company of its legal liabilities related to Bhopal gas disaster, Amnesty International has sought inquiry by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) into, what it calls, failure of the company to disclose to the shareholders the information about its liabilities regarding the disaster.

    Thousands of people died when about 40 tons of deadly methyl isocynate (MIC) gas was released from the Union Carbide plant on December 3, 1984. The Union Carbide has since been taken over by the Dow Chemical.

    In a statement, Amnesty said it has requested that the SEC investigate Dow's failures to disclose pertinent information to shareholders, and called on Dow investors to demand increased disclosure by supporting a shareholder resolution that requests the Company to report on any steps taken by it to address the needs of the survivors of the Bhopal chemical disaster.

    The resolution, Amnesty said, was filed by some shareholders led by the New York City Pension Funds.

    Amnesty says that in a November 8, 2006, letter to the Indian Ambassador to the United States, Ronen Sen, Dow emphasized its interest in eliminating the Bhopal impediment to investment in India.

    It quoted the letter as saying, "Our common goal is to support economic growth in India, including key foreign investments that will promote job creation, economic diversification and technology updates. Thank you for your efforts to ensure that we have the appropriate investment climate to facilitate forward-looking investment and business partnerships."

    Specifically, the Amnesty says, the letter requested that the government "withdraw its application for a financial deposit against remediation costs (for Bhopal cleanup). Dow was referring to a Madhya Pradesh High Court case regarding cleanup of the toxic abandoned factory site in which the Indian government has filed a brief asking for a 22 million dollars deposit toward cleanup costs.

    Amnesty says a second letter, dated November 28, 2006, from Indian industrialist Ratan Tata to the Planning Commission, supports the request and calls for government and corporate money to clean up the Bhopal site and end Dow's liability.

    The letters, it says, were unearthed by Bhopal survivor groups through a Right to Information Request to the Planning Commission.

    "The letters are a strong evidence that Dow believes pending legal liabilities for the legacy of Bhopal present a barrier to investing in India, but the company has not disclosed this to its shareholders," said Sanford Lewis, an attorney who has represented Dow shareholders, including the New York City Pension Funds and Amnesty International USA.

    "Furthermore, Dow is attempting to bypass the Indian courts in this matter, by pressuring the executive branch."

    Amnesty quotes New York City Comptroller William C Thompson, Jr, as saying "This letter shows concretely that Dow's CEO is aware of how the remaining issues in Bhopal impede the company's investing in India.

    This gives new momentum and support for our shareholder resolution, calling for the company to report on new initiatives by Dow to address the problems of the survivors. The CEO's proposed solution, which would simply have the company wipe its hands of this matter, seems impractical and unlikely."

    Dow inherited responsibility for the Bhopal disaster from Union Carbide, which owned the Bhopal factory. Dow purchased Carbide in 2001. According to Amnesty International, more than 22,000 people have died and more than 100,000 continue to suffer as a result of the 1984 disaster.

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