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Monday, November 3, 2014

Warren M Anderson is no more .... ghosts of Bhopal haunt still !!

His death, which was not announced by his family, was confirmed from public records – that brings no tears miles away in India – for that ghastly incident that occurred almost 30 years ago. 

Anderson was born in New York in 1921, to Swedish immigrants who lived in the borough's Bay Ridge section. They named him for Warren G Harding, who was the president at the time.  After graduating in 1942, he enlisted in the Navy and trained to be a fighter pilot, but never saw combat. After his discharge, he made the rounds of chemical companies and took the first job offered him - by Union Carbide. He climbed the corporate ladder rapidly and ruled over an empire with 700 plants in more than three dozen countries. Then came Bhopal.

The night of Dec 2, 1984 would rankle as a black day in the annals of Indian history.  Over 3000 died that night itself ; nearly 12000 died subsequently and thousands maimed  due to diseases induced by methyl-isocyanate that tank 610  of Union Carbide spewed out some 27 tonnes of a poisonous asphyxiating gas from.  The plant installed in 1969 was to produce a cheap pesticide ‘sevin’ which ironically killed human lives. Almost 3 decades since that night of terror and death in Bhopal, which saw a cloud of deadly gases explode out of a faulty tank in a  pesticide factory and silently spread into the homes of sleeping people – there are still people affected by the world’s worst industrial disaster ever.  Many who breathed the highly toxic cocktail that night suffered a horrible death with multiple organ failure. Those who survived have suffered multiple diseases in the decades that were to come.

Following the disaster, there was an international outcry for relief for the victims and punishment to those responsible for the gas leakage. The pesticide plant from where the gas leaked belonged to Union Carbide India, a subsidiary of the US-based Union Carbide Company. They were asked to pay compensation and arrange for medical treatment. The matter immediately got embroiled in legal controversies. Thus began a long and painful struggle of the victims for compensation, medical attention and rehabilitation that has spluttered along for a quarter century.  In February 1989, the Supreme Court announced that it was approving a settlement for Bhopal victims under which Union Carbide agreed to pay measly Rs.713 crore for compensation to victims, while the government agreed to drop all criminal cases against it. However, due to intense public shock and anger at letting off the culprits, the court agreed to reopen the criminal cases in 1991. Two installments of compensation — of up to Rs 25,000 each —  were given to the injured, one in 1994 and the next in 2004.  Years later  Union Carbide announced merger with US-based Dow Chemicals and Union Carbide refused to take responsibility for its liability.  

There was no redemption for Warren M. Anderson — accused no. 1 in the criminal case pertaining to the Bhopal gas tragedy — in life. On Thursday, it seemed there was none in death. Hearing of his death, a full one month after he passed away at a nursing home in Vero Beach, Florida, on September 29, survivors of the Bhopal gas tragedy assembled outside the now-defunct Union Carbide factory and placed a large portrait of him. Then, one by one, they spat at the photograph. With his death, the struggle to get the former CEO of Union Carbide extradited has hit a dead end. Anderson was the chief executive officer of the UCC, owner of Union Carbide India Ltd., which ran the plant from where the deadly methyl isocyanate leaked into the densely populated bastis of Old Bhopal.

The Hindu as also other newspaper reports confirmed that there were so many discrepancies in the way the accused was allowed to go out of the country.   There were reports that Mr. Anderson and others “were arrested” as soon as they landed in Bhopal from Bombay “under seven different sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) – but there have been allegations that legal corners were cut to ensure Mr. Anderson was released immediately and was granted safe passage out of the country. In Feb 1989, CJM, Bhopal, issued non-bailable warrant of arrest against Warren Anderson for repeatedly ignoring summons. In 2010, all eight accused, including the then Chairman of Union Carbide Keshub Mahindra, in the Bhopal Gas disaster case convicted by a court. With the support of the US government, he escaped extradition. And he eluded subpoenas in civil cases by living quietly and migrating between his homes in Vero Beach; Greenwich, Connecticut; and Bridgehampton, New York.  

According to NY Times, his death passed almost unnoticed until an article appeared in Vero Beach 32963, the weekly newspaper of the Vero Beach barrier island. In 1984, an article in The Times said that in dealing with Bhopal, Union Carbide, which is now part of Dow Chemical, had to find a balance between "the instincts of human compassion, the demands of public relations and the dictates of corporate survival." The article noted that a paperweight on Anderson's desk quoted his favourite Chinese proverb, suggesting his preferred light-handed approach: "Leader is best when people barely know he exists." …………now he is reported passing away in a nursing home in Florida on 29 September.

Web searches reveal that wayback in 1985, President Reagan  commuted the sentences of 13 people who had been in prison for violations of Federal laws. One was a boyhood friend of Prime Minister of India, Adil Shahryar, who was serving 35 years for setting off a firebomb, fraud and other violations in Florida. Mr. Reagan signed the clemency papers June 11, the day Mr. Gandhi arrived in Washington for a visit with the President. Unlike other Presidential papers, grants of clemency are not routinely published by the White House and made available to the press, accounting for the action's lack of notice. The Shahryar commutation was reported in the Indian press and confirmed by the White House press office, which referred a caller to the Justice Department for comment. A department spokesman, Joseph Krovisky, said he could not go beyond the text of the official clemency grant, which stated that Mr. Shahryar, then in the Federal penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kan., would not have been eligible for parole until 1991.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar

2nd Nov. 2014.

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