| by N.S.Venkataraman
( November 2, 2014, Chennai, Sri Lanka Guardian) Mr. Warren M. Anderson , former Chairman of Union Carbide Corporation was in charge when the toxic gas in the pesticide plant of Union Carbide at Bhopal in India leaked out in 1984. This accident resulted in death of hundreds of persons and is considered as one of the worst industrial accidents in the world. Mr. Anderson died unsung and unheard on September 29,2014 in USA at the age of 92.
Mr.. Anderson visited the site of accident at Bhopal in India from USA within four days from the date of accident and he was immediately arrested in India . Later on, he was released on bail and was allowed to leave India. Union Carbide paid 470 million USD to Government of India to compensate the victims who suffered in the accident. The case took place in USA for prolonged period . However, the environmental activists in India and the Government of India were not satisfied with the compensation amount paid. The government of India wanted to extradite Mr. Anderson and went to the extent of calling him a fugitive . Political parties, activists and Indian media liberally heaped abuse on Mr. Anderson and called him as absconder, criminal and murderer.
Now that Mr. Anderson has died at the ripe age after spending several years almost in isolation in USA, it is time to introspect as to whether Mr. Anderson sinned or was sinned against. Perhaps, history will be more kind to him than the government of India and Indian media.
The accident that took place in Bhopal was an extremely sad event, which caused death of 3787 persons as per the statistics of Government of India. Most of the persons who died belonged to lower income group and many others suffered heavily and died later on due to the after effects of inhaling toxic gas. While this was an extremely disturbing event , the question is as to whether it would be appropriate to call Mr. Anderson as murderer and criminal for this accident.
It would be justified to call a person as criminal or murderer if he had carried out the heinous act wilfully and deliberately. This was not the case in the case of Mr. Anderson. While , no doubt, Mr. Anderson was the Chief of Union Carbide Corporation at the time of accident, the accident was not due to him but in spite of him. He was staying in USA at the time of accident and the plant was operated not by Mr. Anderson personally but by the executives in India who were Indians. The detailed enquiry later on revealed that it was an accident, perhaps caused by inadequate maintenance management and poor shop floor practices.
Hundreds of accidents have taken place in the world in various areas and all such accidents take place due to lack of care and inadequate safety precautions.. No accidents take place anywhere without reasons. India is no exception to this. As a matter of fact, the number of industrial accidents that take place in countries like India and China are far more than the accidents taking place in other countries. The coal mine accidents in China are too many and too frequent resulting in death of many persons. Such coal mine accidents have taken place in India also, apart from rail accidents and accidents in the fireworks factories in states like Tamil Nadu etc., which have also resulted in the death of workers , most of whom are poor and belong to deprived section of society. While enquiries take place after such accidents and causes are fixed, it is not the practice to call the chief executive of these establishments as criminals. Why make an exception for Mr. Anderson ?
It is not the intention to say that Union Carbide was not guilty .The fact was that the company accepted the responsibility and paid compensation, though it was not to the satisfaction of government of India and activists in India. The quantity of compensation was a matter to be settled in courts. India is unhappy that Mr. Anderson could not be extradited to face trial in India. The fact was that the US government refused to entertain such request for extradition as per the US law.
While government of India and the activists in India are entitled to take the view that Union Carbide (now Dow Chemical ) has been unfair to the victims and did not act responsibly , it would be incorrect to hold Mr. Anderson personally responsible. Mr. Anderson as an individual was different from Union Carbide . After all, in 1986 at the age of 65, Mr. Anderson retired from Union Carbide and had nothing to do with the company after his retirement.
The emphasis stressed in this article is only to disapprove the practice of Indian government, Indian media and activists to call Mr. Anderson as criminal . Mr. Anderson must have spent his 27 years of life after retirement in sorrow , regret and anguish for the accident that killed innocent people while he was in charge of Union Carbide along with thousands of others in the company all over the world and several colleagues in India.