Indian government goes soft on Bhopal crimes

Indians protest reduced charges for Union Carbide CEO

Feature story - 10 July, 2002
The Indian government's move to reduce charges against a former Union Carbide CEO has met with protests and hunger strikes in India. The 1984 Bhopal gas disaster that has killed 20,000 to date and injured hundreds of thousands continues its toxic legacy today.

Greenpeace joins Bhopal survivors to protest moves by Indian government to reduce charges against a former Union Carbide CEO.

Warren Anderson, former CEO of Union Carbide, has been hiding in the United States during the almost 18 years since the disaster. The victims, on the other hand, have been left with lingering disability and disease in the shadow of the chemical plant, where tonnes of dangerous, highly toxic chemicals remain strewn. Their land and water is contaminated with heavy metals and chlorinated chemicals, and fair compensation remains outstanding.

Union Carbide's decision to cut safety corners at its Bhopal factory was purely economic, but had massive human consequences. On the night of the poisonous gas leak, six safety measures designed to prevent such a leak had either malfunctioned, were turned off or were otherwise inadequate. In addition, the safety siren, intended to alert the community, was turned off.

Now, the Indian government's Central Bureau of Investigation wants to reduce the outstanding charges against the former CEO Anderson to the point where he could face only a small fine or at maximum a sentence of two years, rather than a possible ten years imprisonment. This reduction from culpable homicide to negligence also means that the sentence would not have to be served in India.

Given the enormity of the crime and its consequences, it is little wonder Indians have taken to the streets in Delhi, Bangalore and Mumbai to protest their government's shameful display of leniency to corporate criminality.

This travesty of justice also led three protesters, two of whom are Bhopal disaster survivors, to begin a hunger strike in Delhi on June 29 when the impending move was announced. Their hunger strike continues through today.

Speaking from the Delhi Demonstration, Ananthapadmanabhan Ananth of Greenpeace said that the government must reverse the decision, and play its proper role to ensure those responsible are held accountable and liable for the ongoing disaster, "just as they would be had it occurred in the United States."

The decision could have important future consequences. "If the Indian government does not reject this move, it will give a clear signal that India is open to exploitation by other multinational corporations," said Ananth.

The U.S. multinational Union Carbide shed its infamous name by merging with Dow Chemicals in 2002. Dow not only gained the company's assets, it also assumed its liabilities in Bhopal.

Greenpeace is working with local groups and other NGOs to ensure Dow cleans up the factory site, to secure long-term medical treatment and economic compensation for survivors, and to provide clean drinking water.