River 'god' throws out Dow from Pune

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By OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
  • Published 9.09.10
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Mumbai, Sept. 8: Dow Chemical, which bought the Bhopal disaster-tainted Union Carbide, will abandon a proposed research hub in Pune and return the land because of protests by an influential sect which fears pollution of a revered river.

Dow India, an arm of the US giant, will return the 100 acres to the Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation (MIDC), the state government entity yesterday told Bombay High Court where a suit against the project has been filed.

The pullout comes weeks after the UK-based Vedanta saw its Orissa bauxite mining plan vetoed by the Centre on green grounds following protests by a local tribe which argued the project would desecrate nearby hills that are home to its deity.

In Dow’s case, the resistance came from the Warkari sect whose members feared pollution of the Indrayani river if the R&D base came up at the site in Pune’s Chakan. The land was allotted in 2007.

Dow India issued a statement today, three days after informing the MIDC, confirming the pullout. “Due to continuing safety and security concerns driven by (the) unlawful agitation at the site, Dow India has determined the location to be untenable for the establishment of its R&D facility and has submitted an application to return the land to the MIDC.”

The company said it was “currently evaluating alternative locations and no other decisions have been taken at this time”.

The development delighted local farmers and the Warkaris — a sect tracing its roots to the Bhakti movement — who had been campaigning under the leadership of a retired judge, BG Kolse-Patil. “Dow has finally been thrown out of Pune. However, our struggle shall continue till the ownership of the land is restored,” Shashi Sonawane, the convener of Yuva Bharat, one of the organisations at the forefront of the agitation, said.

In March 2008, Pune RTI activist Vinita Deshmukh had contested Dow’s claim that the Rs 300-crore unit was only an “R&D facility” and not a manufacturing unit. The MIDC, which cleared the project, had allowed the company to use 20 hazardous chemicals, Deshmukh had said based on RTI disclosures.

Following the revelations, a youth outfit of the Warkaris had damaged upcoming structures at the site in July 2008, forcing Dow to stop construction.