Sunday, 2 November 2014

Bhopal tragedy: PM Modi was in US but wasn't informed of Warren Anderson's death

Warren Anderson, the villain number one of the Bhopal gas disaster, was dying when Narendra Modi was on his much-hyped US visit in September. In fact, he died two days before Modi left the US shores. To know that the Indian Prime Minister was kept uninformed about is a shame. And, to say that even the CIA did not know about it, a bigger shame.
Satinath Sarangi who has led the battle of Bhopal gas victims for higher compensation and fixation of criminal liability of Dow Chemicals the US principals of Union Carbide the company responsible for the gas disaster, says “We know for sure that during his visit Modi met the current CEO of Dow Chemicals, Andrew Liveris. It is shocking he did not learn of Anderson’s death. He was so busy drawing fresh investment for India he did not care to utter a word on Bhopal tragedy and its victims.”
Sarangi says Anderson’s death doesn’t alter the liability scenario. The case for bigger compensation should be pursued. “We are going to organize dharnas at Jantar Mantar from Novemeber 10 to force the government on the issue.”
Protests against Warren Anderson. AFP.
Protests against Warren Anderson. AFP.
The curative petition filed in 2010 to get enhanced compensation for the victims has not been pursued for four years. That is a measure of the government’s concern for the gas victims. For the state government the news about the death of Anderson has come as a spoiler of the state’s formation day celebration. It has decided to go ahead with the celebrations regardless. The victims on the other hand have been preparing to launch fresh agitation.
The BJP government in Madhya Pradesh kept accusing the Congress dispensation for having let off Anderson even when he visited India. His bail was conditioned on his return. He never did despite many summons. When the Indian victims wanted to fix criminal liability of the disaster on Anderson the US apologists like P Chidambaram tried to defend him. But, the Indian Prime minister not having even broached the subject of Bhopal disaster has left the victims seething in anger.
Abdul Jabbar who has been running a movement to get justice to the victims for the past 30 years says the state and central governments’ complicity with the US culprits needs no proof. “These long years of inaction show that Indian government, regardless of which party heads it, is absolutely helpless before the US,” he says.
Jabbar feels the government should now focus on the India officials of Union Carbide who have been convicted of negligence. So weak was the case of prosecution that the eight Indian including the former UCIL chairman Keshub Mahindra got away with just a rap on the knuckles. After years of trials they were sentenced in 2010 for just two years in prison. The state government promised to fight for an enhanced sentence. No progress has been made in the matter.
Bhopal gas victims have been ritualistically organizing protests for the past 30 years. Numerous enquiries have been conducted to help the cause of the gas victims who continue to die due to diseases or disorders caused by exposure to poisonous gases emanating from the Union Carbide plant or from continued contamination of water or air.
The sense of resignation set in long ago. Now the anger against US agencies has given way to the rage against the inertia of Indian administrators. The Madhya Pradesh government has officially put the toll at 3,787 while the unofficial figure hovers around 15,000.
India’s extradition request for Anderson was pending a US decision for more than 20 years. US department of justice apparently chose to go slow on it, says Jabbar. Anderson was 92 and could not be expected to live forever. But the Indian resolve to bring him to book died long ago. Never mind the boastful claims of successive governments to fight for justice.
Bhopal gas victims feel cheated in the government’s failure to bring Anderson to book particularly after he thumb-nosed the Indian law and sovereignty allegedly with the help of the then chief minister, Arjun Singh. Anderson who arrived in India four years after the disaster was arrested at Bhopal but managed to wiggle out within a few hours of arrest. There were conflicting reports on who should own up the responsibility for his escape.
Moti Singh the then collector of Bhopal says Anderson could not have found a way out had there been no telephone in the room he was staying. He managed to communicate with friends in the US and found a way out. The government not only allowed Anderson to leave Bhopal it provided him with all help to reach Delhi. Swaraj Puri the then Superintendent of police in Bhopal says Anderson was released on oral orders of the higher ups.
While Arjun Singh blamed his bĂȘte noir PV Narasimha Rao the then external affairs minister for facilitating Anderson’s escape. In his book Singh said he got Rao’s instructions from RD Pradhan the former home secretary. Pradhan, however, refuted the charge saying he was not at the Centre then.