Did the Indian government guarantee Dow Chemicals, the parent company of Union Carbide, that it will not be held liable for the Bhopal gas tragedy?
An RTI response has raised fresh questions over the government's position in the case, as it brought to light a letter written in 2006 by Dow Chemicals CEO Andrew Liveris to the then Indian Ambassador to the US Ronen Sen, claiming that the Indian government had said that his company is not liable for the Bhopal gas tragedy of 1984.
If Liveris is to be believed, the assurance from the Indian government came even when an Indian court was still deliberating on the issue.
A copy of Liveris' letter dated November 8, 2006, was obtained by US-based Somu Kumar of the International Campaign for Justice for Bhopal under the Right to Information Act from the Indian Embassy in Washington.
A copy of the letter and other documents obtained by Kumar from the Indian Embassy were circulated among the Indian media.
"Given the statements made by the Government of India representatives in front of all meeting attendees that DOW is not responsible for Bhopal and will not be pursued by the GoI, it will be important to follow through to ensure concrete, sustained actions are taken that are consistent with these statements," Liveris said in his letter to Sen.
However, it was clear which meeting Liveris was referring to.
"It is shocking that GoI representatives have announced that Dow is not liable even though court is still deliberating on this issue," Kumar said in a statement.
Members of the International Campaign for Justice for Bhopal, including Kumar, held a protest demonstration outside the Indian Embassy in Washington.
In 2004, the Jabalpur High Court began hearing the case on who should pay for the sanitisation of the defunct Carbide plant and in 2005 the Minister for Chemicals and Fertilisers Ram Vilas Paswan, sought from Dow Rs 100 crore for the clean-up.
"Around the same time, GoI representatives had already announced the verdict that DOW will not be held liable while the court has still not decided on the issue," Kumar said.
Liveris' letter also sought withdrawal of the application seeking financial deposits for the clean-up.
"His follow-up action plans seems like direct dictation on what Government should do including blatant statement of asking GoI to withdraw its application for financial deposit against remediation costs," Kumar alleged.
His letter Liveris said: "It follows logically from the GoI's statement regarding the non-liability of Dow, that the Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilisers should now withdraw its application for financial deposit against remediation costs".
"Certainly a withdrawal of the application would be positive, tangible demonstration that the GoI means what it says about DOW's lack of responsibility in the matter".
Kumar alleged that this shows collusion between high level GoI officials and Dow chemicals for a long time, even though the government is trying to show otherwise in public.
According to the information provided by the Indian Embassy in Washington, under Right to Information Act, Liveris met the then Indian Ambassador on September 21, 2005 and sent two letters to him later - on February 21, 2006 and November 8, 2006.
Liveris also met the then finance minister during his visit to New York on the sidelines of the Indo-US CEO Forum meeting on October 25, 2006 and sent him a letter on February 26, 2007.
The Dow CEO also met Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on September 14, 2005 in New York during a CEOs luncheon co-hosted by the Indian Ambassador and Bill Harrison, Chairman and CEO of JP Morgan Chase and Co-Chairman of India-US CEO.