Dow Chemicals’ real intentions

BY Vinita Deshmukh| IN Regional Media | 09/03/2008
As villagers living on its periphery stepped up their protests against its 100-acre R & D Centre, the multinational resorted to a hectic PR campaign. (Pix: A village outside through whose land the chemical plant runs.)
VINITA DESHMUKH, editor of a Pune weekly, invoked RTI and discovered some hasty clearances by the powers that be.

Reprinted from Intelligent Pune

 

 

DOW Chemicals International Pvt Ltd, which has recently released large advertisements in vernacular newspapers of Maharashtra - claiming that its premises at Chakan is an environment friendly Research and Development Centre only and not a manufacturing plant - may not be telling the complete truth. Information procured under the Right to Information Act (RTI) by Intelligent Pune, from the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) has revealed that the pollution control body has given its consent to use 20 chemicals, listed as hazardous (in the Schedule I of the manufacture, storage and import of hazardous chemical rules) under the Environment Protection Act (EPA), for manufacture for its research activities. The Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation (MIDC) too has rushed through the proposal as has been revealed in the file notings of its head honcho - this we got under Inspection of files under Section-4 of the RTI Act. Maps and records at the town planning and revenue departments show that the alloted 100 acres land to DOW is still owned by the government. Yet, DOW has begun its construction activity. Also, lack of transparency by DOW in dissemination of information to the villagers (who reside a stone¿s throw away) regarding its activities is throwing up suspicion. Activists are also questioning the large land allotted to it - does a Research and Development Centre require 100 acres? What exactly is DOW up to? Intelligent Pune invokes RTI and tries to find answers

   

Since the last few weeks, Dow Chemicals International Private Limited, which has set up base on 100 acres of land at MIDC Chakan, about 40 Kms from Pune, has been indulging in hectic public relations through media. It has been giving half and full-page advertisements in leading Marathi dailies, reiterating that, being a R&D centre, it is not a manufacturing unit (this in bold). It further says that the R&D centre will be a zero-discharge centre and hence will be no threat to environment. The most stringent rules set by government or Dow itself will be scrupulously observed, state the advertisements.

 

These publicity campaigns have been a sequel to protests by the villagers of Shinde Vasuli in Chakan, who live a stone¿s throw away from the Rs.300 crore plant.

 

 Protests are growing by the day and more and more activists in Pune are joining the fray. The nucleus of the agitations, is that, going by the earlier association of the company to Union Carbide in Bhopal - the chemical killer that snuffed out thousands of lives in the year 1984 with many more thousands still bearing the hazardous after-effects -why has DOW been given another chance, and that too so easily?

 

The Government of Maharashtra  has allocated 100 acres of land to DOW. The land where permission has been given to start a chemical-based company is in the midst of the Shinde Vasuli village and not exactly on its outskirts. A major tributary of the Indrayani river runs just 1.2 Kms away from this Multi National Company (MNC) compound. About 14,800 trees planted six years back by the social forestry department have been hacked to make way for construction of this centre, say villagers. The 7/12 extract of  January 10, 2008 (a land ownership document), also mentions the number of trees existing inthe plot as 14,800 along with their number and names.

 

The villagers who are in extreme proximity to this chemical plant claim they have been kept in the dark about the nature of activities of the company. Hence, they are at war with this  MNC since mid-January. The site is enclosed by a pink and yellow compound wall, about five feet high. An unfinished building stands at the centre of the site with iron beams exposed to the elements.

 

Shantaram Panmat, former sarpanch of Shinde Vasuli fumes at the very mention of the site. "How dare they come and construct that machine of doom here on our land? They started construction almost six months back but did not even take us into confidence. It is our fundamental right to know what is happening in our neighbourhood for we have the right to good environment. Then why is the government hiding the truth from us? We wish to know how clean DOW¿s intention is or is it another Union Carbide in the making. No one¿s telling us."

 

Since January 16, the villagers have been blocking the entry of trucks carrying construction materials for the site. Villagers say these trucks come in the wee hours of the night under police protection. Taking cognisance of the concerns of the villagers, a high level committee of experts has been set up. Headed by the secretary/principal secretary (environment), the other members include district collector of Pune, members from Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation (MIDC) and Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB), director, National Chemical Laboratory (NCL), director, University Department of Chemical Technology, Matunga and regional officer of MPCB. Construction activity is presently halted due to protests..

 

RTI unveils the veiled

 

This writer decided to invoke the Right to Information Act-2005 (RTI) to get access to the truth. The MPCB is the prime body to give environmental clearance for such a project. The MIDC is the body, which provides land and infrastructure. Both are required to scrutinise the proposal of this nature thoroughly since the outfit, even if it is a R&D centre, is of a chemical nature. As per the new notification, an environmental clearance from the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MOEF) is mandatory.

 

The writer carried out inspection of files under Section 4 of the RTI Act at the MIDC, Pune office. The writer also invoked the RTI at the MPCB office to know what kind of consent DOW has applied for and what kind of consent has the MPCB given.  

 

Information was gathered under Section (4) of the RTI Act wherein this writer and RTI activist, Vijay Kumbhar, undertook inspection of the file containing correspondence between MIDC and DOW. The file did not contain the crucial IEM (the new term for the project report), the environmental clearance from MOEF and also the Government Resolution (GR) issued by the Pune district collectorate mentioning the change of the zone of the land. When we again demanded these documents the officials stated they do not have them.

 

Government still the owner of the 100 acre land

Intelligent Pune procured the 7/12 extract of the 100 acres land from the Shinde Vasuli grampanchayat. While some part of it has been reserved for school, the remaining is cattle grazing land, owned by the government. The extract mentions that the social forestry department has planted 14,800 trees here. Construction work cannot begin unless the zoning is formally changed. Strangely, records at Pune¿s town planning department show that the 100 acres land still belongs to the government and is an agricultural land. The land zoning remains unchanged, which means  no construction can come up there until the land zoning has been officially changed.

 

This writer also procured the possession receipt document under RTI from the MIDC. This is a legal document confirming transfer of land from the government to the MNC which clearly states that "The possession receipt by itself does not pass on the legal title of the plot to the person to whom the plot is handed over." As per the document, the plot was handed over to the MNC on April 9, 2007. The agreement is between the head surveyor of MIDC and Ravi Rao, director of Dow Chemicals International Pvt Ltd.

 

File notings under RTI

Some of the file notings under RTI reveal the hurry in which green signal was given to the proposal. Here¿s why:

 

SEPTEMBER 7, 2006: Dow Chemicals International Pvt Ltd formally requested the Pune¿s regional officer of MIDC for allotment of land in MIDC Pune on September 7, 2006. The letter states: ``We have filed a request for allotment of 100 acres of land at Chakan Industrial Area. This land is for a project to establish the ¿Dow Knowledge Park¿, which would include a world-class Research and Development Centre. (Note the word ¿include¿).

 

The file notings by the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of MIDC on the same letter states: "This is a prestigious project. Just get it examined from pollution point of view and put up in 7 days by October 3."

 

OCTOBER 10, 2006: In another file noting, dated October 10, 2006, the CEO of MIDC (cannot decipher much of the content because the document is a copy of a faxed note and the wordings have been almost erased) but the noting by the CEO in ink states that: "This is with reference to the application of DOW. Please discuss. This is urgent. Ask RO, Pune to submit a report in two days about DOW." This same document has another file noting which says: "Discussed in LAC meeting. Details to be obtained from RO Pune as per discussion." This document also has yet another file noting which states: "Discussed with RO Pune. Report asked within two days."

 

What was the haste to give a green signal to this project when the certified copy of the Memorandum and Articles of Association of DOW Chemical International Pvt Ltd (November 1, 1999) attached along with this letter of September 9, 2006 clearly states the main objective of DOW is to manufacture and not research and development? The first paragraph states: "The objects for which the company is established clearly states in its first point: "To carry on the business as manufacturers of processors, dealers, stockists, distributors, consultants, collaborators, suppliers…. importers and exporters of chemicals (solid, liquid and gaseous), chemical compounds (organic and inorganic) in all forms of chemical products of any nature and kind whatsoever and all by products and joint products thereof including heavy chemicals, acids, alkalies,…"

 

RTI reveals MPCB¿s callousness too

Information sought by this writer on February 27 from MPCB was received on February 28.

 

1. River Regulation policy flouted?

If the MPCB¿s regulations are to be adhered to, then the DOW Chemical International Pvt Ltd CANNOT come up at Chakan at all. The Government  of Maharashtra has formed a River Regulation Policy through its notification of July 15, 2003. The Environment Department, Government of Maharashtra, vide Govt. Resolution (GR) No. MMV-2000/326/22/TB-3 dated July 15, 2000 has notified the industrial location policy from environment angle in river catchments of some prominent rivers of the state which have been polluted over the years, due to trade and sewage effluents. Accordingly, the river catchments are categorised as. A-I, A-II, A-III and A-IV based on the river water quality.

 

A-I river means: Three kilometres, on either side, from peak flood line level, industrial development is restricted. Up to five kilometres, green and orange zone industrial development can be undertaken. Between five and eight kilometres, any industrial development can be permitted with prior pollution controlling mechanism.

 

A-II: In this category, one kilometre, on either side from peak flood line level, no industrial development. Up to one kilometre, green and orange zone industrial development is permitted. Beyond two Kilometres any industry can be developed with prior pollution controlling mechanism.

 

A-III and A-IV: In A-III classified area, fisheries and wildlife related industries are permitted. In A-IV zone, the river side is suitable for agricultural and industrial usages.

 

According to V L Munde, regional officer, MPCB, Pune, permission to Dow Chemicals International Pvt Ltd was given because Indrayani River  falls in the A-II category and its major tributary - the Shuda river is two kilometres away from DOW, hence any industry can come up beyond that. Villagers claim that the river is barely one kilometre away.  However, the exact distance of the river from its peak flood line level up to the boundary of the plant needs certification of the executive engineer of the respective irrigation department, as per the River Regulation Policy. No such certificate has been obtained.

 

Intelligent Pune sent its team along with a civil engineer to assess the distance - we found that it is 1.2 kms from the river shore to the plot boundary of Dow.  In order to ascertain the distance of the river Shuda, a major tributary of Indrayani River, from the compound wall of the Dow Chemicals R&D plant, we took a civil engineer to the spot. Armed with two tapes of 30 meters, the engineer measured the distance.

 

Due to the topography of the place, measurement was not easy. We went a kilometre from the compound wall in our car noting the distance on the odometer of the car. From there, we took out our tapes and measured the remaining distance, which came to be exact 210 meters (seven measures of the tape). To be doubly sure, on our return we started our measurement from the riverbed (the flood being not known to us) and measured the distance to the wall. It came exact to be 1.2 kms.

As we were going to print, the regional officer of MPCB, Munde, retracted from his statement saying that the River Regulation Policy is not applicable to River Shuda, which is not a notified river. However, Shuda is a major tributary of Indrayani and lies in its catchment area.

 

2. MPCB gives consent for use of at least 20 hazardous chemicals

Documents procured under RTI reveal that MPCB has given a ¿go ahead¿ to DOW to use for its manufacturing plant at Chakan, at least 20 hazardous chemicals as per Schedule-I of ¿Manufacture, Storage and Import of Hazardous Chemicals Rules-1989¿ under Environment Protection Act-1986.

 

October 19, 2007: In his letter dated October 19, 2007, Sanjay Khandare, member secretary of the MPCB has granted Dow Chemicals International Pvt Ltd (Plot no A-1, MIDC Chakan, Phase-II, Taluka Khed, District: Pune) the consent for the manufacture of the following chemical products per month:

Polymers- 2,000 kgs

Catalyst organic/inorganic - 1,000 kg

Surfactants - 200 kgs

Aliphatic organic compounds - 500 kgs  

Aromatic organic compounds - 500 kgs

Inorganic salts - 500 kgs.

The monthly quantity may not reflect the commercial nature of activity, but it involves manufacturing chemical products, albeit for Research and Development.

For the manufacture of the above products, the list of chemicals which are likely to be used by DOW and have been given a nod by the MPCB are:

 Gases- Air, nitrogen, hydrogen, helium, argon, methane, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, ammonia, acetylene, hydrocarbon gases, hydrogen chloride and others (150 regular cylinders (total)

Solvents- Methanol, acetone, isopropyl alcohol, ether, petroleum ether, toluene, acetonitrile, THF, DMF etc (1000 litres per month)

Halogenated solvents- Ethynyl dichloride, chlorobenzene, chloroform (500 litres per month)

Inorganic acids- Nitric acid, sulfuric acid, hydrochloric acid, phosphoric acid and perchloric acid (500 litres per month)

Alkali- Sodium hydroxide, potassium hydroxide, calcium hydroxide, calcium carbonate, sodium carbonate, ammonia, calcium chloride (500 kgs per month)

Organic Reagents- Triethylamine, aliphatic/aromatic amines, phenols alphatic/aromatic acids, olefins, surfactants (500 litres per month)

Inorganic Reagents- Metals, metal oxides, metal nitrites/halides/carbonates, developed catalysts and oxidizing/reducing agents (250 kgs per month)

 

Commercial polymers - Polyethelene, polypropelene, polyurethanes etc (2000 kgs per month)

Cryogenics-  liquid nitrogen and dry ice (2000 kgs per month)

General laboratory chemicals- Lewis acids, organic acids, inorganic acids, phoshazine bases, organic bases, inorganic bases, organic salts, inorganic salts (500 kgs per month)

Organic sulphur compounds-  Alkyl sulphates, Alkyl sulphides (100 kgs per month) (also see box on page 11) 

 

In case of accidents

In case of accidents, the MPCB in its consent letter states - "Whenever due to any accident or any other unforeseen act or even, such emissions occur or apprehended to occur in excess of standards laid down, such information shall be forthwith reported to Board, concerned police station, officer of director of health services, Department of Explosives, Inspectorates of factory and Local Body. In case of failure of pollution control equipments, the production process connected to shall be stopped."

 

Experts shocked

Maj Gen SCN Jatar (Retd), a petrochemical expert and RTI activist stated that, "The authorities should not have given final approval until the environmental impact assessment (EIA) report is made. The report should be made by a well known agency and local representatives of the citizens should be associated with its preparation.

 

Jatar further adds that: "With the background of Bhopal, it is surprising that the government has not laid adequate stress on the safety aspect. Here too, the government should hold up final clearance unless the company carries out a Quantitative Risk Assessment (QRA), Escape Evacuation and Rescue Analysis, Hazard and Operability Study (HAZOP) and Hazard Analysis. There are industry norms for conducting each of these analyses/studies. The results of the hazard analysis and other studies are used to identify unacceptable risks and select the means of controlling or eliminating them. The results are also used to update the existing Emergency Response Plan and Disaster Management Plan of the Pune District and Maharashtra State. The importance of these studies cannot be over emphasised. Here too, it would help if local citizen representatives are taken into confidence while conducting these studies to allay their apprehensions.¿¿

 

According to a panel of environmental experts who scrutinised the consent by the MPCB, following are the comments:

``The list of chemicals given which are likely to be used at the Chakan plant include hazardous and dangerous gases as well as chemicals such as 1) gases - SO2,  Acetylene, HCL. 2) Solvents - Acetone, ether, nitrite compounds, halogenetic solvents, and inorganic acids.

``Thus the safety-related issues arising out of handling, accidents and incidents involving above chemicals require proper storage, handling and emergency procedures. For this an Environmental Management Plan should have been demanded by the MPCB.

``There is inconsistency in the application. While DOW has given eight categories of hazardous waste, the MPCB consent does not reflect so . ``For any R&D centre - safety is the most important issue. When you are developing something new, possibility of upset or accidents has to be assumed with detail analysis of various probabilities. Safety vision in different scenarios is not given. The HAZOP (Hazardous operations report) has not been done. If an accident occurs, what is the preparedness? Details like which is the nearest hospital, how much area would be cordoned off, what is the buffer zone and so on.

"Government of India¿s Manufacturing, Storage, Import and Handling of Hazardous Chemicals Rules-1989   (MSIHC) as notified in EPA Act does not seem to have been adhered to. There does not seem to be adherence of the Chemical Accidents and Emergency preparedness (Rules-2000) for which the company needs to submit onsite and off site disaster management plan and that includes education to the neighbourhood residents. It is the fundamental right to know what is happening in the neighbourhood.

``As a precautionary principle - Environment Impact analysis should have been done by the company on its own when they claim they are a responsible corporate.

 

MPCB¿s green signal to DOW for trade and effluent treatment

 MPCB¿s consent letter of October 10, 2007 states that trade and effluent treatment by DOW should be as per the stringent norms: under Section-25 of the Water (prevention and control of pollution) Act-1974 and under Section-21 of the Air (prevention and control of pollution) Act1981 and authorisation/renewal of authorisation under Rule-5 of the Hazardous Wastes (management and handling) Rules-1989 and Amendment Rules-2003 (to be referred as Water Act, Air Act and HW (Mand H Rules respectively).

 

DOW in its Annexure- III of the application form talks about Research and Development (R&D)

It states: "The overall objective for core R&D is to carry out research and bring innovations on existing processes and products and at the same time develop raw processes and materials. The central themes for research will be on catalysis, organic and polymer synthesis, engineering and process science, new products development and analytical sciences and pilot plant facility.

 

After MPCB gave its consent, the MIDC, in its letter dated February 2007, signed by the Area Manager, MIDC, Pune, states: "You will have to submit Environmental Clearance from MOEF, Government of India as per new notification." The MPCB and MIDC offices do not possess this crucial document..

 

DOW¿s commitment

In its press release of January 2008, states: "The Global R&D Centre in Pune will conduct basic research. The initial investment in this global R&D centre is expected to be over Rs.400 crores. The centre currently employs over 125 research scientists and is expected to employ 500 top-class scientists when fully operational by the year 2010.

"Some reports have wrongly associated DOW with 1984 Bhopal mishap. DOW India want to set the record straight by correcting misconceptions in this regard. The Bhopal Gas tragedy occurred in Union Carbide Ltd (UCIL) plant in the year 1984. The DOW Chemical (DOW-US) never owned or operated the said UCIL facility in Bhopal in the year 1994. UCIL changed hands as a result Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) ceased to hold any shares in UCIL since the year 1994. Several years after the tragedy, in the year 2001, UCC became a subsidiary of DOW-US, a totally distinct and unconnected corporate entity. UCC as of date continues to be a separate legal entity.¿¿

Ravi Rao, regional manager of DOW Chemicals International Pvt Ltd, Pune, DOW refused to speak to Intelligent Pune. An e-mail containing a questionnaire was sent to Nandkumar Sanglikar, senior leader, public affairs of DOW, Mumbai. On Tuesday, his colleague, Royston Dmello stated that, "I am nor finding the right person who has all the information that you want. Please give me a few days more." When told about the deadline for printing, he stated "It was not possible to meet it."

 

Why 100 acres?

Does a R & D Centre require such lavish land? A question that is raising eyebrows about its future intentions and is not answered in the documents scrutinised under RTI.

 

(With additional inputs from Shrinivas Varunjikar)                                             

 

 

 

 

Subscribe To The Newsletter

Journalists in Kashmir are up in arms over the summons issued by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) to Kashmir Observer journalist Aqib Javed Hakim, for his interview with jailed separatist leader Asiya Andrabi in January. This amounted to intimidation and harassment, a joint statement of the Kashmir Working Journalist Association (KWJA) and Kashmir Journalist Association said, adding that, in the Kamran Yousuf case, the NIA had tried to define journalism by its own skewed standards.                           

D Sunitha, an ASP in the Telangana Police, filed complaints with the NBSA against character assassination by some Telugu TV channels. NBSA has announced an agreement  arrived at with HMTV whereby the channel will broadcast an agreed upon apology statement three times a day on three days starting today.The complaint was against ETV, Sakshi and HMTV, the NBSA has reserved its order in other two cases. TV9 was as much of an offender, but it is not a member if the NBSA.                   

View More
Announcement