Warren Anderson on Bhopal: ‘We Have a Stigma’

“We have a stigma,” then-Union Carbide Corp. Chairman Warren Anderson said at a press conference in late December 1984, soon after a deadly gas leak had killed thousands at an Indian pesticide plant majority-owned by his firm. “We are going to spend a long time trying to make sure that the name of this company doesn’t stand for disaster in Bhopal.”

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Indian activists paste posters of Union Carbide CEO Warren Anderson and others deemed responsible for the 1984 Bhopal gas disaster.

Mr. Anderson probably had no idea just how long. More than 25 years later, after the only verdict on criminal charges relating to the gas leak was announced this week, many Indians (and some Americans) are baying for his blood. Again. Pictures of Mr. Anderson have been flashing constantly on television channels, and the question of why India hasn’t been able to bring him to trial has dominated the news even more than the verdict.

India’s Central Bureau of Investigation has been trying unsuccessfully to extradite Mr. Anderson to India to face criminal charges since 1993. In his absence, the agency proceeded in its prosecution of former Indian officials of Union Carbide India Ltd. A court on Monday found seven of them guilty of “causing death by negligence” and sentenced them to two years in prison. The verdict has left many in India angry and the Indian law minister has said that the case against Mr. Anderson was “not closed” and he can be tried if he “can be obtained.”

“For an offense which is a grave offense his presence was necessary and he has to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty,” said K.T.S. Tulsi, a former senior government lawyer, explaining Indian criminal procedure in the case of an absent accused. “A plea can’t be recorded in his absence.”

The CBI says the extradition request against Mr. Anderson is open.

“The CBI has sent an extradition request to the U.S. along with an arrest warrant and it is still pending,” a CBI spokesman told India Real Time on Thursday. The case will remain open until Mr. Anderson’s death, unless the agency or Mr. Anderson officially request its closure, the CBI said.

Union Carbide Corp., meanwhile, has said that Mr. Anderson is not subject to the jurisdiction of an Indian court since he was not personally involved in the day-to-day running of the Bhopal plant.

That hasn’t stopped a lawmaker in the U.S. from a state with a sizable Indian-origin population from calling for Mr. Anderson, who reportedly lives in Long Island, to go to India to stand trial. No number for Mr. Anderson was listed online in the Bridgehampton directory.

“Warren Anderson absolutely deserves to be extradited from the U.S. and punished for the full extent of his crimes,” said Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D.-N.J.) in a statement posted on his web site on Wednesday. “As chairman of Union Carbide at the time of the Bhopal gas disaster, Mr. Anderson was ultimately responsible for his company’s actions.”

Over the years, others have been on Mr. Anderson’s case too, most notably the political parody group The Yes Men, who in 2004 sent a fake Dow spokeman on air to say the company would push for extradition. (In 2001 the Dow Chemical Company acquired Union Carbide Corp., which had divested itself of its stake in the Indian plant in 1994.)

But the U.S. doesn’t seem likely to do much with the extradition request.

“We hope this verdict today helps bring some closure to the victims and their families,” said State Department official Robert Blake on Monday.  “But I don’t expect this verdict to reopen any new inquiries or anything like that.”

Even if the elderly Mr. Anderson were brought to India to face trial, it’s unclear that he would survive it based on the length of the first trial.

The evidence against him would have to be presented again – a process that wouldn’t take less than several years judging by the trial against the UCIL officials — so that he would have an opportunity to cross-examine witnesses, noted Mr. Tulsi.

The Bhopal victims may not feel that Mr. Anderson or Union Carbide paid sufficiently in jail time or monetary compensation. But in terms of reputational loss, Mr. Anderson and his company paid very dearly. Even today, at least some articles about the British Petroleum oil spill use the “Union Carbide” name as short hand for less than stellar corporate behavior.

“Who steals my purse steals trash; ’tis something, nothing; ‘Twas mine, ’tis his, and has been slave to thousands,” says the knave Iago in the Shakespearan drama “Othello.” “But he that filches from me my good name…makes me poor indeed.”

In that particular case the character is concerned about preserving his good name as a cover for his behind-the-scenes scheming. But the sentiment still holds, we’re sure Mr. Anderson would agree.

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    • Mr. Anderson your name is forever written in the history as bhopal murderer and absconder. Just like Hitler killed thousands in gas chamber you did same with indians. And ran away.

    • @ A Regular Reader of WSJ:
      The complicity of corrupt officials / ministers / politicians is a necessary factor for MNCs to conduct business without social responsibility. The fact that Anderson was ‘escorted’ out of India is conjecture at best … But Bhopal’s tragedy is a fact.

      It is also a fact, that democracies such as India and US are reduced to the shame of a sham, when they override every notion of fairplay to shield the plutocrats and oligarchs who run their corporations.

      May the horrors of Bhopal never be visited again … this was India’s equivalent of the Three-Mile Island … except an American need not worry about accountability from its government … American corporations though are another matter altogether. And if you are a poor Indian, who cannot afford to buy the products of an elite lifestyle emblazoned with the names of more American corporations … then don’t expect any acknowledgment … let alone accountability from governments (Indian or American) or from the corporations (Indian or American). Nor should that poor Indian … utter even the word, “G-R-I-E-V-A-N-C-E”, for the elite (Indian or American) worship Mammon … not Man … let alone God.

      R.I.P. (Relive in Perpetuity), Bhopal. You are the black mark that is the true emblem of this rapacious cult of profit over accountability.

    • Since you began with post-1993’s CBI attempt for extradition, I’d like to bring to your notice the role played by the then Madhya Pradesh govt (of 1984) and CBI in flowing Anderson out of India. Arjun Singh was the Chief Minister of MP at that time and Anderson was escorted out of Bhopal on his official plane. Here’s the link :


      I wonder if you refrained from writing against a political party due to your prejudices or you missed on this point.

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