Gas tragedy villain Anderson dead, Bhopal celebrates

  • HT Correspondents, Hindustan Times, Washington/Bhopal
  • Updated: Nov 01, 2014 01:13 IST

Former Union Carbide chief Warren M Anderson, wanted by India to stand trial for the 1984 Bhopal Gas Tragedy, died on September 29 at a nursing home in Florida at the age of 92.

The news was first reported in a Florida publication and was picked up by the New York Times, which confirmed it from public records. There was no announcement from the family.

A toxic gas leak from Carbide’s pesticide plant in Bhopal on December 2, 1984 claimed 3,787 lives, according to the Madhya Pradesh government. Unofficial estimates, however, put the death toll at over 10,000 with more than half a million injured, making it one of the world’s worst industrial disasters.

Anderson was arrested on arrival in Bhopal four days after the tragedy but was controversially allowed to leave the country. He didn’t come back, with several warrants against him and a court declaring him an ‘absconder’.

The US government helped him stay free by refusing to extradite him even as other Carbide officials, mostly locals, were tried and punished. The company paid $470 million in compensation in 1989, a sum criticised as insignificant by activists.

As news of his demise broke on Friday, activists and survivors distributed sweets in Bhopal and spat on enlarged photos of Anderson, venting their anger at his “escape”. Activists blamed the US government for shielding the 92-year-old from a lifetime in jail.

“Hopefully, Anderson’s life in hiding and his ignominious death would be a lesson for all corporate criminals,” said Rachna Dhingra of the Bhopal Group for Information and Action.

Anderson retired from Union Carbide two years after the tragedy and dropped out of public view in later years — shuttling between homes in Connecticut and New York state, and the nursing home in Florida.

Union Carbide has since become a part of Dow Chemicals, which believes its responsibility for the tragedy has ended. But litigation continues in a US court to hold it accountable for the contamination of underground water in Bhopal.

Five months after the gas leak, Anderson told The New York Times, “You wake up in the morning thinking, can it have occurred?”

“And then you know it has and you know it’s something you’re going to have to struggle with for a long time,” he added.

At the same time, Anderson said in interviews, he was determined to find something positive in this tragedy — such as improved safety measures. He, however, admitted that speaking of the positives was challenging — “people look at me and think I’m out of my mind to say that this may be a good event”.

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