Warren Anderson, chairman of the Union Carbide Corporation when a gas leak from its Bhopal plant killed over 3,700 people in December 1984, died at a hospital near his home in Florida more than a month ago. Word of his death filtered out early Friday and was received with regret in Bhopal by families of the victims and those fighting on their behalf for compensation and rehabilitation.
The New York Times reported that Anderson died on September 29 but it was not announced by his family. He was 92.
N D Jayaprakash, co-convenor of the Bhopal Gas Peedith Sangharsh Sahayog Samiti (BGPSSS), said: “This will be a regret forever. There never was any intention of any Indian government to get him back to India to stand trial and prosecute him for his crime. It is tragic that while thousands of gas victims have suffered and waited years for justice, the criminal was allowed to lead a comfortable life and die a peaceful death. The victims will forever feel cheated by their own government which allowed him to go unpunished.”
Anderson’s death went unnoticed for a month before The New York Times accessed the information from public records. The Union Carbide was held responsible for leakage of toxic methyl isocyanate, used in the production of pesticides, from its Bhopal factory.
“In Indian tradition, we do not speak bad about anyone who has died. But it will no doubt be a regret that someone whose negligence led to deaths of thousands of people was never brought to book, thanks to a political and administrative nexus that sabotaged criminal justice system. His extradition to India was never pursued seriously,” said Sanjay Parikh, a lawyer representing the victims in various cases in the Supreme Court.
The BGPSSS issued a statement in which it called on the present government to expedite the trial of other accused. “Successive governments at the Centre are guilty of lowering the prestige of the Indian judicial system by trying to project the Indian judicial system as a hapless institution incapable of trying and prosecuting a foreign accused who is charged with committing heinous crimes against the people of India. If the present government at the Centre has any intention or commitment to uphold the dignity of the people of India… it must forthwith take necessary action to bring other representatives of the guilty company to stand trial,” the BGPSSS stated.
Three days after the gas leak, Anderson, then in his 60s, had come to India and was arrested. But he was allowed to leave the country in controversial circumstances. Activists working among survivors have accused the state and Central governments of facilitating the “escape” of the powerful executive who never returned to face the law though summons were periodically issued and he was declared an absconder.
Burning and hanging effigies of Anderson after mock trials became a ritual with activists and survivors who said his refusal to face trial in a Bhopal court symbolized all that was wrong with the judiciary and the government which failed to get him extradited.
“His death (before spending time in jail) is a black spot. But there are many Indian Andersons who are still alive and the judiciary should ensure that they are sent to jail. The Supreme Court should intervene in the matter before wasting any more time,’’ Abdul Jabbar, a leading activist said.
After a protracted trial, a local court in Bhopal in 2010 sentenced seven officials of Union Carbide India Limited to two-years in jail leading to an outcry over the quantum of the punishment. They were immediately released on bail and the accused later challenged their conviction.