Dow Chemical Halts Building in Indian 'Sacred' Area

The research and development center is slated to work on water purification and energy efficiency and would employ 500 scientists.

A unit of Dow Chemical said on Oct. 1 it had suspended construction of a research center in western India after villagers complained it would pollute an area they hold sacred. The Indian unit of Dow said "all work had temporarily halted" at the Chakan site near Pune, 160 kilometers (100 miles) northeast of Mumbai. The move follows objections by the Warkaris religious sect, who are followers of Hindu saints. They say the $100 million facility would pollute rivers they hold sacred.

"Construction at the site is halted. We have complied with the (Maharashtra state) government notice," a Dow India official said. Maharashtra chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh last week ordered a month's halt to construction of the center, which had been due to open this year.

Dow India said it is setting up the research and development center in Chakan to work on water purification and energy efficiency that will employ 500 scientists. It has repeatedly said it plans no manufacturing at the site.

Media reports say the opponents of the Dow facility have joined those demanding the U.S. multinational take responsibility for the chemical waste dumped by Union Carbide in 1984. For many Indians, Dow is linked with the 1984 Bhopal disaster when a Union Carbide India plant spewed cyanide gas into the air, killing more than 3,500 slum dwellers. Dow acquired Union Carbide in 1999. Activists accuse Dow of shirking responsibility for the Bhopal gas leak disaster as thousands continue to suffer from the after-effects.

Dow says it took over Union Carbide years after the disaster and no court has ordered the company to clear up the contaminated site. It insists it is up to the Indian government to settle the Bhopal issue.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2008

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