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Maharashtra fears protests over Dow research centre orchestrated

By Makarand Gadgil
February 03, 2009 03:36 IST
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The Maharashtra government fears that the agitation against Dow Chemical's proposed Research and Development centre was orchestrated by its aggressive neighbour to influence Dow to take its $400-million project to that particular state.

It may be recalled that Dow's plan to construct an R&D centre at the Vasuli-Shinde village near Chakan in Pune ran into trouble last year after villagers and Warkaris (a religious sect in the state with political clout and widespread following) protested against the project.

The villagers fear Dow's project will pollute the nearby Sudha and Indrayani rivers which are a source of livelihood for them. Warkaris also fear the Indrayani river, which is associated with 17th century sage Sant Tukaram, will be polluted by the Dow's project.

As the issue became a politically contentious one, the state government appointed the committee under the chairmanship of retired high court judge R J Sinkar to probe into the allegations of the Warkaris and villagers.

However, chief minister Ashok Chavan announced in Pune on Sunday, "Dow cannot have the project at the present site and we will be offering the company an alternative site after we receive the Sinkar committee's report."

But Chavan is aware that what could be Maharashtra's loss could be Gujarat's gain.

When contacted, Dow India's spokesman Roysten D'mello said, "We have not received any information from relavant authorities in relation with the Chakan site. While we remain cautiously optimistic, we cannot speculate or comment further until we receive official notification from the state government".

Speaking with Business Standard a senior official from chief minister's office said, "it seems that, agitation was well-orchestrated one as to attempt to burn down the facility and ransack the premises is beyond simple villagers, it needs to be directed from outsiders".

A senior official from industry department said, those who are leading the agitation are constantly shifting the goal, we can make villagers see reason and address their concerns.  However the organisations leading the agitation seem to have some anti-US agenda.
 
"When you point out to them, Dow Chemical is not connected with Union Carbide India, it is controlled by some other entity, they point out Dow was supplier of chemicals to US government during Vietnam war, when you try to reason with them on this issue, they rake up some other issue which is not at all concern with the R&D project," the official said. 
 
However as issue has become political hot potato, it seems state government has no choice but to offer alternative site to project.  
 
But he refused to comment upon what will be the alternative site and said, "let's wait till Sinkar committee gives its report and then we will begin our talks formally".
 
Answering to another query he indicated, state is ready to compensate Dow for the investment it made at the Chakan site and said, "Let the Dow come up with formal proposal about their demand, then we can decide."

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Makarand Gadgil
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