Activists and victims express the hope that with the death of Warren Anderson, former chief executive officer of the Union Carbide Corporation (UCC), the Centre will, at least now, take steps to bring the guilty company to book by making the other accused stand trial and bring a sense of closure to the survivors and other affected persons.
“We know that it is not part of our culture even to speak ill of a dead person, let alone spit on his picture. But what to do? The people are so angry over what has happened and is continuing to happen,” said Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Purush Sangharsh Morcha president Nawab Khan, an affected person himself, about the public show of anger at the now-defunct Union Carbide factory in Bhopal as news of his death spread on Friday.
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 UCC is now an American corporation wholly owned by the Dow Chemical Company. The tragedy was one of the worst industrial disasters in the world, leaving thousands of people dead and over half a million injured on the intervening night of December 2 and 3, barely three days after Anderson celebrated his 63rd birthday.
Satinath Sarangi, member of the Bhopal Group for Information and Action, said, “There is enough evidence to establish that Anderson was directly involved in decision-making as well as oversight of the design, operation and maintenance of the Bhopal factory and was fully aware of the hazards the factory posed to the lives and health of the residents of the city. He is also guilty of approving the faulty waste management system used in the Bhopal factory that is responsible for the ongoing contamination of soil and groundwater. Hopefully, Anderson’s life in hiding and his ignominious death will be a lesson for all corporate criminals.”
Safreen Khan of Children Against Dow Carbide said, “From our childhood, we have been looking upon Anderson’s face as the face of evil. Now that man has died. I suppose the face of Andrew Liveris, Dow Chemical’s CEO, will now be the new face of evil.”
Having fled India in a government-arranged plane in the aftermath of the tragedy, Anderson lived the rest of his life a fugitive, a declared absconder from Indian law.
The tragedy, his wife, Lilian, told CBS news five years ago, “haunted him for many years.”
Anderson, born in Brooklyn, U.S., on November 29, 1921 to Swedish immigrants, was named after the then American president, Warren Harding. A carpenter’s son, he started as a salesman at the UCC and rose through the ranks to become its CEO. He retired in 1965 to lead a relaxed life — gardening, fishing and baking Swedish bread according to an old family recipe, The New York Times reported.
Following the tragedy, he arrived in India on December 6 and was immediately arrested, only to be released a few days later. Indian industry then termed the arrest arbitrary and unjustified, with J.R.D. Tata saying he was “dismayed and astonished at the arrest.”
Arjun Singh’s admission
The late Arjun Singh, the then Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister, said he facilitated Anderson’s departure by a government plane following “persistent calls” from the Union Home Ministry.
“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,” said a report sent to the United States State Department from the U.S. Consulate in Mumbai.
Another letter by the Consulate, dated July 6, 2004, cited the advice of the then Attorney-General Soli Sorabjee in 2001: “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.”