Information obtained from several documents of the U.S. State Department throws new light on the issue of extradition of Warren Anderson, CEO of Union Carbide India Limited and prime accused in the Union Carbide industrial disaster.
While the Right to Information (RTI) documents obtained by activists from the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) bring out bitter truths about the tragedy, documents obtained from the U.S. State Department under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 1966, reveal more inconvenient truths.
The interests and concerns of U.S. businesses over Mr. Anderson appear to be a significant factor in the denial of his extradition by the U.S. government.
For instance, in a letter written to U.S. State Department review authority Archie M. Bolster (dated July, 24, 2003) by probably a U.S. industry representative (writer’s name not clear), it is explicitly stated that “the request [to extradite Mr. Anderson] should be rejected. No issue has greater potential to destroy U.S. business leaders’ confidence in India than the handling of the Warren Anderson case.” It also states that the extradition request was “sheer hypocrisy” and that its “chilling effect on American investment abroad cannot be overstated.”
Another letter written by Linda Jacobson, Assistant Legal Adviser of the U.S. Law Enforcement and Intelligence Department, to Thomas J. Donohue, president and CEO of U.S. Chamber of Commerce, says: “We are aware of the importance of this issue to the U.S. business community… we have learned a great deal about the concerns of the Union Carbide and the U.S. business community… we have also received and reviewed written documentation from the private sector related to these concerns.”
So is Mr. Anderson liable to be extradited at all? “Well, liable yes. It will be difficult. But there are several instances where Mr. Anderson has made statements that suggest individual responsibility,” says Rajan S. Sharma, Lead Counsel for the plaintiffs in the U.S. against the Union Carbide Corporation. “For instance, he once said in a press conference in the U.S. that had he known that the plant was unsafe, he would have shut it down himself,” says Mr. Sharma.
Also, according to Mr. Sharma, on the question of “sabotage by a disgruntled worker,” Mr. Anderson had said that it was his responsibility to ensure that the plant functioned in a way that would not allow any sabotage.
Other documents obtained under the FOIA suggest that the Indian government might not have pursued Mr. Anderson’s extradition on a priority basis.
Unclassified documents prepared by the U.S. Consul in Mumbai, dated July 26, 2004, mention the advice of the Attorney-General of India in 2001 Soli Sorabjee to the government that “efforts should not be made to extradite Mr. Anderson as there was inadequate evidence to link him directly to the cause of the gas leak.”
It says, “GOI [government of India] officials may feel that, for political reasons, they need to be perceived as being concerned about extraditing Mr. Anderson. Although this does not currently appear to be a high priority bilateral issue for the GOI.”
On June 7, 2004, when the U.S. government rejected GOI’s request to extradite Mr. Anderson, experts voiced concerns over the decision and article 2(1) of the Indo-U.S. extradition treaty as its basis, which requires the person to be extradited to be charged with an offence for which he could be punishable in the U.S. for more than a year. Culpable homicide, for which Mr. Anderson was charged in India, was equivalent to manslaughter in the U.S. for which a person could be punished for more than a year ( Frontline, October, 2004). So, where the case is headed? “We are surely making progress. For instance, the Union Carbide has changed its arguments. Earlier they said that the case could not be tried in U.S. courts. Now they are ready for trial. They, however, maintain that UCC is not responsible for the actions of its Indian subsidiary,” says Mr. Sharma.
Now that much has been communicated by high officials of the two countries regarding Mr. Anderson’s extradition, interests of the U.S. business community in the matter and India Inc’s more than vocal support to Dow Chemical in its efforts to get itself absolved of the responsibility of cleaning up the Union Carbide factory premises and the area around it, it needs to be seen if the Indian government toughens its stand on Anderson’s extradition.