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Union Carbide’s Warren Anderson: In Bhopal, a villain in reel and real

For most victims of the gas tragedy, he was a villain and symbolized the failure of the justice delivery system.

Warren Anderson died in September Warren Anderson died in September

The closest India got to punishing the former chairman of Union Carbide Corporation, who was first declared an absconder more than two decades ago, was when the villain in the 2013 blockbuster Dhoom 3 was named Warren Anderson.

Naming the bad character in a movie could have been a coincidence but for most victims of the 1984 gas tragedy he was always a villain who cocked a snook at the successive Indian governments, and symbolized the failure of the judiciary at all levels.

While some activists and survivors celebrated the news about Anderson’s death most found in it India’s failure to bring him to justice after escorting him to safety out of an angry Bhopal on December 7,  nearly four days after the tragedy that took thousands of lives.

The activists working among survivors insist that Anderson was personally aware of and involved in the economy drive to salvage the plant’s financial viability. They allege the company imposed two sets of safety standards in its Bhopal and West Virginia facility, and Anderson ratified it because the company rules demanded he be kept in the loop about every mishap in its plants.

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The power equation between India and the US has changed since 1984, when the tragedy took place, and 1992, when he was first declared an absconder, but despite arrest warrants and extradition request the Indian government failed to bring him back to face the law. In 2010 the trial court convicted Indian UCIL officials but Anderson was never convicted because he was at large.

“There is enough evidence to establish Anderson was directly involved in decision making and oversight concerning design, operation and maintenance of the Bhopal plant. He was also guilty of approving a fault waste management system that is responsible for ongoing contamination of soil and groundwater contamination. Hopefully, his life in hiding and ignominious death will be a lesson for all corporate criminals,” said Satinath Sarangi of Bhopal Group for Information and Action (BGIA).

BGIA and its associate organisations protested his death by pasting a large poster on the compound wall of the abandoned plant and getting victims to spit on it. “It’s a shame that he died peacefully,” said Rachna Dhingra of BGIA.

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While Abdul Jabbar of Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Udyog Sangathan (BGPMUS) himself condemned the Indian government and judiciary’s failure to bring him to face law in the country, some members of his organization celebrated the news by distributing sweets while maintaining that it would have been better to see him hanged in an Indian prison.

However, there was ambivalence in reactions of some of the survivors who wanted more compensation for the trauma they faced and were not so much concerned about punishment for Anderson. Even when the trial court handed down its verdict in the criminal case in 2010 many survivors had gathered in the court premises thinking the case was about settling compensation.

After the verdict and the outrage that followed, the BJP had tried to make a political capital out of it holding the Congress governments in Madhya Pradesh and Delhi responsible for allowing Anderson to escape. The BJP had pointed fingers at then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and former MP chief minister Arjun Singh. The political establishment had tried to pass the buck to bureaucrats. However, with the passage of time the issue lost its steam.

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Anderson’s death has been reported after a one-man judicial commission constituted to fix the responsibility of the tragedy completed its hearing. Though the commission was given six months to submit its report it sought several extensions and is set to hand over its final report to the government on November 24.

First published on: 01-11-2014 at 01:37:23 am
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CBI to seek Anderson’s death certificate to close trial

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