The Hindu op-ed piece that marks the 25th anniversary of the Bhopal gas tragedy, makes the point : The powerful can always count on official help. Vidya Subrahmaniam writes about the refusal by the then Union Carbide chief Warren Anderson to answer summons from an Indian court ; and its ruling declaring him as ‘untraceable’ and a ‘fugitive from justice’. While reality is that Mr Anderson, now 88, has all through these years been leading a ‘life of luxury’ in his private estate in New York state.
What about his extradition ? India can’t be faulted for not making a formal request in 2003, some 19 years after the event. And it took the US government yet another year to reject India’s request. The latest is that a fresh warrant of arrest has been issued by a Bhopal court ; and CBI ordered to produce Mr Anderson in court.
I happened to have preserved The Times of India report on Mr Anderson’s arrest, 25 years ago, when he landed in Bhopal in the wake of the gas tragedy that claimed at least 2,000 lives and left physically impared thousands of others.
Mr Anderson and two other company executives were picked up by police from the tarmac as their plane landed at Bhopal, driven off through a side gate ( presumably, to evade a bunch of waiting news reporters) ; taken to the Union Carbide guest house, where they stayed for a couple of hours before being put on the state government plane to be flown back to New Delhi.
The media, effectively kept away from the visitors, were handed out, as Mr Anderson was safely airborne, a press statement that said 1) Mr Anderson was charged with 304 IPC (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) , and Sections 304(A), 120(B), 278, 284, 426 and 429; and 2) released on a bond of Rs.25,000, on the surety furnished by a company official.
Those figures cited from the statute book relate to offences such as causing death by negligence, committing mischief, criminal conspiracy, making the atmosphere noxious, negligent conduct with respect to poisonous substance and mischief by killing or maiming cattle.
The charges looked pretty stiff in cold print. As the then chief minister Arjun Singh noted in a his statement, the government could not remain ‘ a hapless spectator’ to the tragedy….and the power of the state was ‘committed to fight for its citizens’ rights’. Mr Arjun Singh has never been short of fitting words, tailored to suit a given occasion.
As for Mr Anderson’s comfortable ‘house-arrest’ in his company guest-house, well protected from media media menace; his release, and the trip back to Delhi in the state plane, an official spokesman came up with this explanation: ‘Mr Anderson’s presence (in Bhopal) might provoke strong passions against him…and (he was released) also because we do not consider his presence in the country desirable’.
So much for the Arjun Singh government’s commitment to fight for the rights of its citizens.