New Delhi: Union Sports Minister Ajay Maken has said that Dow Chemicals must not be allowed to sponsor London 2012 Olympics as it is a successor company of Union Carbide, which was responsible for the Bhopal gas tragedy.
Speaking exclusively to Karan Thapar on Devil's Advocate, Maken pointed that the Olympic's Council charter called for universal fundamental ethical principles.
Here is the full transcript of the interview:
Karan Thapar: Hello and welcome to Devil’s Advocate. Is India justified in demanding the Dow Chemicals be dropped as the sponsor of the London Olympics, and could this lead to India boycotting the Games themselves – that’s the key issue I shall discuss today with the Sports Minister Ajay Maken.
Mr Maken, your ministry has written to the International Olympic Committee asking for Dow Chemicals to be dropped as the sponsor of the London Olympics. On what grounds are you making this demand?
Ajay Maken: Well if you look at the International Olympics Council’s charter, they have put in 7 fundamental principles of Olympism. And the first fundamental principle of Olympism says that respect for universal fundamental ethical principles, and then, they have six fields of activities; one of them is sports and environment. So they are linking with a company which has a track record and which is a successor company of Union Carbide, and I don’t think ethically they can claim to sponsor an event.
Karan Thapar: This is the key point people contest. What has Dow Chemicals done that makes it ethically unwarranted as a sponsor of the Olympics? Name what they have done that makes it unethical.
Ajay Maken: Dow Chemicals is a successor company of Union Carbide and Union Carbide was responsible for Bhopal Gas tragedy.
Karan Thapar: So you are saying that Dow Chemicals has inherited the responsibility that Union Carbide had?
Ajay Maken: Absolutely!
Karan Thapar: Alright, let’s explore that, because that is in a sense, the very basis of your argument. Let’s begin by examining whether Dow Chemicals actually has a legal responsibility for what happened in Bhopal in ‘84. Let me put it out like this: Given that in 1989, the Supreme Court of India negotiated a full and final settlement which even the government accepted and on two occasions, was upheld by the same Supreme Court on appeal, what legal responsibility remains?
Ajay Maken: I am not going into the legal side of this case. It is the moral responsibility of a successor company. I am not talking about the legal responsibility as such. Is not Union Carbide’s successor company Dow Chemicals morally responsible for what wrong Union Carbide had done?
Karan Thapar: I will come to moral responsibility. But are you therefore saying that you accept the point, that there is no legal responsibility?
Ajay Maken: No no, I am not saying so. Please don’t put words in my mouth. What I am saying is that I am not going into the legal side of the case. I am just trying to say that since the IOC themselves say that they are to respect the universal fundamental ethical principles, when they talk about the ethics, when they call about the morality, isn’t it the moral responsibility of the successor company to pay for all the bad things Union Carbide had done?
Karan Thapar: The problem with moral responsibility is that in the absence of legal responsibility, you cannot enforce moral responsibility. That’s why I am asking again – Do you believe the Dow Chemicals has a legal responsibility which they have inherited from Union Carbide?
Ajay Maken: We are not writing to the Dow Chemicals. We are writing to the IOC. We are asking IOC just because in the spirits of Olympics, in the spirits of Olympism, they should not tie up with a company which has a history of Union Carbide behind it.
Karan Thapar: Well okay. I will explore moral responsibility that is your key issue. But first, so that the Indian audiences who are listening to you can understand your position, let us for a moment look at legal responsibility.
Ajay Maken: Why legal responsibility? Legal responsibility you should talk out to the Chairman of the GoM which has been formed on the Dow Chemicals issue, how to tackle it legally. I am a sports minister. We have complained to the International Olympic Council.
Karan Thapar: Okay, let me then at least get you to agree to certain facts. Leave legal responsibility aside. Let us just look at certain facts. Do you accept that a) the Supreme Court of India in 1989 negotiated a full and final settlement which the Indian government accepted and which was twice upheld on appeal?
Ajay Maken: I am not going into that.
Karan Thapar: But are you denying it or accepting it?
Ajay Maken: I am not going into that at all. What I am trying to say is that the moral responsibility lies with the Dow Chemicals. That is it. Because it is the successor company of Union Carbide.
Karan Thapar: Alright. Okay. You don’t want to go into legal responsibility. But I just want to point out for the audience that there are certain facts which you are not disputing. You are not disputing the fact that you are not going into them either.
Ajay Maken: But you should… do you agree that it is the moral responsibility of Dow Chemicals to…
Karan Thapar: Well let’s come to moral responsibility.
Ajay Maken: Not only is it morally irresponsible… IOC should not partner with a company which is morally responsible for an environmental disaster.
Karan Thapar: Let’s then question whether there is moral responsibility.
Ajay Maken: Absolutely.
Karan Thapar: Given that Dow Chemicals only acquired Union Carbide in 1999, fifteen years after the Bhopal tragedy, what moral responsibility can there be?
Ajay Maken: Then what? Even now people in Bhopal are suffering on account of that disaster. If they are forced to drink water which is contaminated by Union Carbide in 1984, is not Dow Chemicals morally responsible for that? Sports and environment is one area of their activity… Sports and environment… How can they ignore?
Karan Thapar: Minister, permit me to answer your question. You are saying that Dow Chemicals is today responsible for the fact that people are still suffering? The truth is that in 1991, when the Supreme Court heard the first appeal on the ‘89 settlement, the Supreme Court of India said that if the settlement is incomplete, the responsibility for the shortfall will fall on the government of India. That is your responsibility therefore.
Ajay Maken: I am again saying that I am not going into the legal aspect of the case.. but the moral responsibility...
Karan Thapar: No, but the moral responsibility is taken care of by the legal responsibility.
Ajay Maken: The moral responsibility it has inherited… a successor company.
Karan Thapar: No Minister…
Ajay Maken: The Supreme Court has again reopened the case. Is it not before the Supreme Court again?
Karan Thapar: The Supreme Court has not reopened the case.
Ajay Maken: Is it not before the Supreme Court again?
Karan Thapar: For the third time. Twice the Supreme Court has upheld the original judgement.
Ajay Maken: If it is before the Supreme Court, then the matter is pending before the court.
Karan Thapar: No no, it hasn’t gone to the Supreme Court in the sense that it has itself opened the case. Your government has brought it. The SC has given its opinion.
Ajay Maken: In whatever way it is… For the government, it is still a dispute. The court is still looking into it…
Karan Thapar: Minister, let me finish my question before you interrupt. You are saying there is a moral responsibility because there are people still suffering. You are saying that moral responsibility has been inherited by Dow. I am pointing out to you that any responsibility for the fact that the settlement was complete was adjudicated by the Supreme Court to fall on the Indian government. Therefore, if there is a moral responsibility for the fact that people suffered, it was given by the Supreme Court to the Indian government, not to Dow.
Ajay Maken: But the Indian government has gone to the SC again. The matter is pending before the court.
Karan Thapar: The Supreme Court hasn’t answered. The Supreme Court hasn’t answered and you don’t know what they will say.
Ajay Maken: Then it is a hypothetical question, as to what the Supreme Court will say.
Karan Thapar: You have created the hypothesis, no one else has.
Ajay Maken: What I am trying to say is why do you have to go into the legal aspects? It is still pending before the court. Let us go into the moral aspect till it is settled.
Karan Thapar: Minister the point is that the moral aspect is a) not settled. The second thing is that the moral aspect is vitiated by the legal position. But let me point out something else, you keep talking about moral aspect, I first pointed out to you that Dow had only bought Union Carbide only 15 years after the event, you have ignored that. There is a second fact. In 1994, Union Carbide sold Union Carbide India to an Indian company called (McLoyd Russell) which today is called ‘Eveready’. If there is moral responsibility, it should go to ‘Eveready’.
Ajay Maken: No no, then again, has Union Carbide not been sold to Dow Chemicals?
Karan Thapar: But after they had sold Union Carbide India to ‘Eveready’. The responsibility thus went from Union Carbide India to ‘Eveready’. Why aren’t you appealing to Eveready?
Ajay Maken: No Mr Thapar. The present status is that as far as the Indian government is concerned, the matter is still before the Supreme Court. But as far as the Indian government is concerned, we have filed a case before the Supreme Court. That is the legal side of the case. It is still on. As far as the moral responsibility is concerned, we feel that responsibility lies on Dow Chemicals. That’s why we have written to the IOC.
Karan Thapar: Let me tell you this, even if it were for argument’s sake to accept your moral responsibility. The problem with moral responsibility is that it is undefined, more importantantly is it is vague and vacuous. And you are trying to make it actionable. How can you make something actionable when there is a dispute over the very definition of the moral responsibility?
Ajay Maken:It’s a sport event and it is the spirit of Olympic, the Olympism which is being promoted through this Olympic and in Olympism the first thing is universal principle of ethics and morality…When it comes to ethics and morality, when it comes to environment how can you forget…
Karan Thapar:Minister, if the ethics of Dow in your eyes so questionable then how do you account for the fact that Dow has 11 thousand employees in India in 12 locations….
Ajay Maken: I am a Sports Minister.
Karan Thapar:But you are part of a government for whom Dow does work.
Ajay Maken:We have written to the International Olympic Council for withdrawal of their agreement with the Dow Chemical..
Karan Thapar:Why don’t you terminate your relationship with Dow in India first?
Ajay Maken:Let the other ministers respond on that, as far as the Sports Ministry is concerned, as far as the Olympics is concerned…..
Karan Thapar:This is hypocrisy, you are taking on a stand on Olympics where your case is weak and vacuous. But where Dow is actually involved with government, work in India, you are not taking any stand at all?
Ajay Maken:We are taking stand on Olympic because of the Olympism, because of what the charter of the Olympic says.
Karan Thapar:Have you become the arbiter of what the charter says. The International Olympic Committee is disagreeing with your interpretation…
Ajay Maken: It is for every one to see. The first principle of Olympism is to promote ethics.
Karan Thapar:Yes, and the very company that you have been accused of being unethical, is working with the Jaipur Foot Project, drinking water in Gujarat, housing in Maharashtra, where you were in power, flood relief in Bihar, 11 thousand employees in 12 locations. You are not terminating any of that?
Ajay Maken: Are they playing in Olympics, where the universal principles of ethics is the main thing, on the basis of which the entire event takes place?
Karan Thapar:Alright let’s take a break at this point of time. Let’s come back and ask, if the International Olympic Committee rejects your request or demand to drop Dow Chemicals, then what will you do? Back in a moment’s time, see you after break.
Karan Thapar:Welcome back to Devil’s Advocate, and an fiery interview with Sports Minister on India’s stand that Dow Chemicals should be dropped as a sponsored of the London Olympic.
Minister, if the International Olympic Committee were to reject your request to drop Dow Chemicals as the sponsor, what will you do?
Ajay Maken:It’s a difficult question and a hypothetical one….
Karan Thapar:Very likely it’s exactly what will happen because when the IOA wrote to them, they wrote back on the 16th to say no, so they likely to say the same thing.
Ajay Maken: Now since the government of India has taken it up and I think that they will respond favourably.
Karan Thapar:But if they don’t , what will you do?
Ajay Maken:Well we have not yet decided.
Karan Thapar:But you must surely have a plan?
Ajay Maken:We do have a plan but why to divulge the plan now?
Karan Thapar: Let me put two things to you. First of all: newspapers are speculating that if you get the no from the Olympic Committee, Indian officials will boycott the opening and closing ceremony?
Ajay Maken:No, we have not yet decided.
Karan Thapar:But are you considering it?
Ajay Maken: I can’t say anything as we have not yet decided.
Karan Thapar:So it’s a possibility that officials may boycott?
Ajay Maken:No, I can’t say anything on that. What I can say is that, we will keep in our mind the sensitivity and the feelings of Bhopal people as well as the feelings of the players.
Karan Thapar:Let me put it like this, if at the end of the day as the newspapers are speculating, officials were to boycott the opening and closing ceremony. I want to ask you the simple question, what purpose would that serve? Do you think any one in the Olympic Committee cares whether Indian officials would turn-up? They will laugh at you.
Ajay Maken:Mr Thapar, I would not like to answer anything hypothetical, we don’t know what the answer would be first of all. Secondly, how can I divulge what steps I am going to take five months after now.
Karan Thapar: Just a moment you mean to say, you may not decide for five months what you will do?
Ajay Maken: Well, to boycott the opening and closing ceremony, the decision can be taken just two days before the opening ceremony.
Karan Thapar: So in other words uncertainty will hang for five months more?
Ajay Maken:But the players will be preparing?
Karan Thapar:Just a moment, the players will be preparing no doubt but there is second issue, is it possible that India may boycott the games themselves?
Ajay Maken:I will not like to say anything on that.
Karan Thapar:So that’s the possibility?
Ajay Maken:I would not like to say anything on that.
Karan Thapar:But you are not ruling it out?
Ajay Maken:I am not saying anything on that.
Karan Thapar:Quite right but when you are saying that you are not saying anything, once again the uncertainty or the possibility of boycott remains?
Ajay Maken:I am not saying what I have said. I think you should read into what I have said. We have to take into our mind the sensitivity of people of Bhopal as well as the players who are preparing hard for the Olympics.
Karan Thapar:Which of two is more important, the sensitivities of Bhopal or the interest or the concern of the players, which is more important?
Ajay Maken:Let me tell you first, for us we would not like to choose anything among two.
Karan Thapar:Let me put it like this. Every single Indian athlete hearing you, will say that the minister is not ruling out the boycott. Therefore is uncertainty, is it fair for this uncertainty to hang over the heads of athletes
Ajay Maken:You asked a very good question. We are going full steam as far as the preparation of the London Olympic for the players.
Karan Thapar:You may be going full steam but there is doubt that you put in the mind of athletic ?
Ajay Maken:There is no doubt among the players, they are going full steam, we have put in the best coaches and we have put them at the best places.
Karan Thapar:Minister, no doubt you made the best facilities available and the best funding and the financing available. But you have put doubt in to the mind of the players. Now every individual player will it say to himself that is it worth myself putting my heart and soul preparation, when in the end of the day India may boycott?
Ajay Maken: We are putting pressure on the IOC to withdraw.
Karan Thapar:And you and I know that pressure is unlikely to be unsuccessful. They have already rejected you ones?
Ajay Maken:They have rejected IOA but I am still hopeful that we will able to find a solution.
Karan Thapar:You know something you can’t be that much hopeful because the letter was written by the lowly joint secretary. If you were that hopeful you have written letter by yourself, you haven’t put your name to the letter?
Ajay Maken:Listen, the joint secretary of the Minister of Sports writing a letter makes it official.
Karan Thapar:And there is big difference between joint secretary and the minister writing a letter?
Ajay Maken:In the past we have engaged with IOC with the number of times and always it is the joint secretary who writes the letter.
Karan Thapar:Minister if you were serious, you would have written to the chairman of the Olympic Committee yourself.
Ajay Maken:No it is not so. Let me clarify this, in the past also on numbers of issues, always the joint secretary of the minister writes to the IOC.
Karan Thapar:Alright many would say that it is the ‘babu’ approach to the problem but leave that aside.
Ajay Maken:Not on the Dow issues, but earlier also on the other issue.
Karan Thapar:But the point I am driving at is that the uncertainty about whether India will boycott or not, remains. And players are going to find it difficult to motivate themselves to put in that extra affords, when there is the doubt over the games happens.
Ajay Maken:If I say anything now I am deflating the pressure which we are trying to put in the IOC.
Karan Thapar:But you are increasing the doubt in the minds of players
Ajay Maken:No that is not we are doing to because we are taking care of that aspect.
Karan Thapar:How can you take care of the doubts in the minds of the people’s mind?
Ajay Maken:We have talked to the players and the coaches and we have asked them. They have to prepare themselves fully and there is no doubt in the minds of the players.
Karan Thapar:But they won’t prepare themselves fully when the minister won’t pull out the boycott?
Ajay Maken:It is not so, they are preparing themselves full and going to full steam.
Karan Thapar:Let me put it like this, it’s seems to many that this campaign is waged at the cost and the interest of the Indian sportsmen. How do you escape from that accusation?
Ajay Maken:Well everything finally you will be able to say, once we take a decision….
Karan Thapar:Which you say you may not take for five months, that’s the point I am making?
Ajay Maken: I am saying may or may not. I am saying the outer limit, I am not saying we will not take any decision……
Karan Thapar: I understand it’s the outer limit but the point still doesn’t change that this campaign is being waged at the interest of the Indian sportsmen?
Ajay Maken: No it is not so. Our Hockey team perform so well despite the letter..
Karan Thapar:And they may not end up with the Olympics if you don’t remove the doubts?
Ajay Maken: That is the different thing. What I have said that the final decision will be by keeping in mind both, the feelings of the people of Bhopal and the players.
Karan Thapar:Minister, the Indian Hockey team qualified with some brilliant matches in the qualifiers to be able to compete in London. India could also win medals in shooting, tennis, wrestling, boxing. Have you consulted the athletics whose medal prospectives are in doubt, whether they support ban or not?
Ajay Maken: Well we will consult them only when we will take a decision to boycott, before that how can we can start consulting process before taking any decision.
Karan Thapar: Why can’t you? Why can’t you say to the athletes that this is the moral issue, are you in favour of boycotting the Olympics or not?
Ajay Maken: If we start discussing with them, do we not create confusion in their minds?
Karan Thapar:At least you are honest to them, at the moment you are not honest in the front?
Ajay Maken: You want us to be honest and create confusion?
Karan Thapar: Do you know what you are saying, you are saying that you will only consult them only after decision is taken.
Ajay Maken: No once we have decided we can boycott.
Karan Thapar: Once you have decided… Will the final decision lie with athletes or what they want or will it lie with the Cabinet?
Ajay Maken: Whatever final decision will be taken, athletes will be consulted.
Karan Thapar: Will they have a veto? Since their future is at stake, not yours?
Ajay Maken: Athletes will have a very important role to play.
Karan Thapar:What’s the very important role?
Ajay Maken: Very important role. You may say ‘veto’ and I may say ‘very important role’.
Karan Thapar: What if the majority of Indian athletes, when you consult them say, no we have been preparing, this is a once-in-a-lifetime a chance, we want to go. Will they have the final say?
Ajay Maken:It will have a very important bearing on the decision.
Karan Thapar:What is very important bearing mean?
Ajay Maken: What you are saying about ‘veto’ and ‘ it is ‘very important’, almost means ‘veto’ in you words.
Karan Thapar:It’s almost means a veto.
Ajay Maken: In your words.
Karan Thapar:So what you are saying to me is at the end of the day athletes will determine whether to boycott or not.
Ajay Maken: What athletes say will play an very important role in our decision.
Karan Thapar:Let me put this to you, the Secretary General of the Indian Olympic Mr Randhir Singh has said to me that the association is against a boycott. They want Dow dropped but they don’t want India to boycott the games. Will you also listen to that voice?
Ajay Maken:Well if the first thing is happens then the second thing would not required.
Karan Thapar:But if the first doesn’t happen?
Ajay Maken: Then we will think about the second thing.
Karan Thapar:But as you said to me a moment ago, the voice of the athletes will play a dominant role?
Ajay Maken: Absolutely.
Karan Thapar:And you also said to me, it’s almost as I am putting it a ‘veto’. And you don’t disagree?
Ajay Maken: That is what you are saying and play the dominant or most important role.
Karan Thapar:Dominant role or most important role, minister a pleasure talking to you.