And justice will be done?

Feature story - 1 August, 2003
George Bush is willing to spend billions, sacrifice many innocent lives, break international laws and dole out summary justice in the pursuit of his misguided 'war on terror'. However if you are a rich American ultimately responsible for the death of more than 20,000 poor people in far off India, you can expect a life of luxury safe from the long arm of the US law.

Warren Anderson, former CEO of Union Carbide in India, at his door in Bridgehampton, Long Island, New York.

Warren Anderson, Union Carbide CEO at the time of the world's worst industrial disaster in Bhopal, India, lives a life of luxury in New York State. Anderson has been hiding in the US since an explosion at his company's plant in Bhopal caused the immediate deaths of thousands of people and led to life long suffering for almost 120,000 survivors. He is wanted in India to face charges of culpable homicide over the deaths of 20,000 people since the disaster.

On the night of the disaster, December 3, 1984, an explosion at Union Carbide's pesticide plant caused 40 tonnes of lethal gas to seep into Bhopal. Six safety measures designed to prevent a gas leak had either malfunctioned, were turned off or were otherwise inadequate. In addition, the safety siren, intended to alert the community should an incident occur at the plant, was turned off.

As the Union Carbide boss, Anderson knew about a 1982 safety audit of the Bhopal plant, which identified 30 major hazards. Rather than fix them in Bhopal, only the company's identical plant in the US was fixed. Neglecting these hazards in Bhopal caused the deadly explosion. Anderson flew to India after the disaster but to the company's surprise, police investigating the disaster immediately arrested him. He subsequently jumped bail and was flow by private jet back to the US, never to return to India.

While fleeing the law in India his company abandoned the polluted factory site allowing it to poison Bhopal residents for 18 years. He did not disclose the composition of the poisonous gas (the company still claims this is a trade secret), thus preventing doctors from properly treating the 120,000 people who are still sick. Company lawyers ensured survivors only got between US$300-500 compensation each, if they were 'lucky', for their ruined lives. Dow Chemical took over Union Carbide in 2001 but it claims Union Carbide has 'settled' the issue of Bhopal.

Despite being wanted in India and by Interpol, Indian and US authorities have been inactive for the last 18 years. US authorities claimed they could not find Anderson and India has not pursued his extradition from the US for fear of damaging US investment and trade. However last year with the help of a UK newspaper we tracked him down to a luxury home in Long Island, New York. Life as a corporate criminal in the states is hardly difficult - Anderson's yearly golf club membership alone is 3-4 times the average compensation for a Bhopal survivor.

Possibly spurred by Anderson's discovery and growing protests at home, the Indian Government has formally filed an extradition request with the US. Better 18 years late than never. The order is likely to be ignored by the US and, no doubt, India hopes it can relieve pressure at home while relying on the US inaction.

Just maybe Warren Anderson will be back in Bhopal in time to answer charges in court about the disaster in time for its 20th anniversary. Unlikely, but at least more likely now than any other time in the last 19 years.