The state government recently refused civic activists access to information about the memorandum of understanding (MoU) it signed in October last year with Dow Chemicals to set up a Rs 400-crore Research and Development facility at Chakan village near Pune.
While the government touted the agreement as a major achievement, the villagers protested the decision alleging usage of hazardous chemicals would harm them and local environmentalists claimed that no environment impact assessment report for the project was done.
There are also allegations that 14,800 trees have been felled on approximately 40 hectares of grazing land given to Dow Chemicals to set up the centre.
The government rejected the RTI application on the ground that it will “prejudicially affect the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security, strategic, scientific or economic interests of the state, relation with a foreign state or lead to incitement of an offence”.
This is the first time this section, under the many exemption clauses in the RTI Act, has been used by the government to refuse information.
Civic activist Shailesh Gandhi who filed the application, said, “To say I am surprised will be an understatement. How can seeking details of the MoU affect the country’s sovereignty?’’ said Gandhi.
Chief secretary Johny Joseph refused to comment on the issue but said Gandhi could always appeal against the decision by the Industries department as permitted under the RTI Act.
AM Khan, secretary in the Industries department, said that since he took charges of the department only last week, he could not comment on the reasons why the decision to reject the application was taken.
NEW DELHI: The UPA government, it seems, has moved to implement a proposal backed by several key ministers, Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia and the Prime Minister’s Office that Dow Chemicals’ business be facilitated in India even while the government pursues a case against it in the Bhopal gas disaster.
The Maharashtra government has given a Rs 500 crore R&D facility of Dow the green light to be set up in Pune in what are seen to be questionable circumstances.
Without proper environmental assessment and project reports, the multinational chemical giant has been given permission to construct a set-up that would be using hazardous chemicals.
The government seems to have worked overtime to facilitate Dow’s entry. Papers secured through the RTI Act show that in September 2006, Dow asked the Congress and NCP alliance government to allot land for the Centre at Chakan village in Pune.
The Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation showed undue haste in getting a report on it in merely two days. The CEO of MIDC noted, "This is a prestigious project. Just get it examined from pollution point of view and put up in 7 days by October 3, 2006."
By April 2007, it handed over possession of land to the company.
In the same month, Dow applied to the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) for consent under various environment laws without submitting a project report or an environmental impact assessment. Dow’s application contained minimal information the RTI document showed. But the MPCB cleared the proposal in six months time and allowed Dow to even manufacture chemicals not just research.
When contacted by TOI, the state environment secretary and head of the high-powered committee set up by the state government, Shyamlal Goyal, refused to comment.
But soon serious protests broke out at the proposed site. Reacting to it, the government set up a high level committee headed by the state environment secretary to review the entire proposal. The villagers continued to protest.
The MPCB, in face of serious protests by the local groups and Bhopal tragedy activists, quickly retraced its steps and issued a revised consent letter this time asking Dow to get the mandatory environmental clearances from the Union environment and forest ministry as well as other statutory clearances.
But, even as it demanded that the company obtain the environmental clearance after submission of an impact report, a risk analysis, a disaster control plan and other documents that would help monitor activities on site, it allowed the company to continue construction. Under the Environment Protection Act, no construction is allowed till the clearances are given.