BHOPAL, REUTERS AND OTHER SOURCES:
Victims of world’s worst industrial disaster in 1984 took to the streets in Bhopal, protesting against the forthcoming visit of United States President George W Bush.
The protesters also demanded the speedy extradition of Warren Anderson, former Union Carbide Chairman.
In December 1984, tones of a toxic gas leaked from a pesticide plant here owned by Union Carbide, killing 8,000 people almost immediately. Half a million were injured, of whom more than 120,000 remain seriously ill, over 21 years later.
Union Carbide Corporation and its then CEO Warren Anderson are charged in a Bhopal court with culpable homicide (see COURT CASES blog) but for the last 14 years have been refusing to obey the court’s summons.
A belated attempt by the Government of India, under express instruction from the judge, to have Anderson extradited from the US to stand trial was refused by the US State Department for reasons it refuses fully to clarify.
However documents obtained via the Freedom of Information Act show that the US administration was deeply involved in the decision to protect Anderson.
Among the victims, used to endless delays and lack of action by politicians there was confusion about what had or had not been done.
Victims shouted slogans demanding Warren Anderson be brought to India and tried in Bhopal court and accused government of inaction.
“It’s shameful to know that our government is unable to demand the extradition of Warren Anderson from the US government. Anderson, who was responsible for the Bhopal gas tragedy, is staying in Florida in the US. Our government is not brave enough to ask for his extradition,” said Abdul Jabbar, a protester.
Union Carbide in 1984 accepted moral responsibility for the tragedy but “moral” responsibility has never translated into anything tangible.
The company formed a trust with a fund of £1,000. Later, the fund’s sole trustee persuaded the Indian Supreme Court to permit the sale of Union Carbide’s majority shareholding in its Indian subsidiary. The shares had been attached by the court and victims argued that they should remain attached, for to sell them would sever Carbide’s last ties with India.
So it proved. The Supreme Court ordered that the money realised from the shares should be used to establish a free hospital for the victims in Bhopal. The hospital has since been bedevilled by controversy. Private patients are given preference, according to the victims.
Union Carbide in its PR continues to claim that it endowed a 100-million dollar charitable trust fund to build a hospital for victims.
In fact Carbide left Bhopal without even cleaning up its factory, which remains in a shocking condition, full of lethal chemicals which have today poisoned the drinking water of some 20,000 people.
In 2001 Union Carbide was taken over by Dow Chemical which although it accepted Carbide’s US liabilities, claimed it had no liability for cleaning up the Bhopal factory. Despite continuing to refuse to accept responsibility for the clean up, Dow is permitted to trade in India, although its 100% subsidiary is considered a rogue, criminal, corporation.
21 years on, tens of thousands of victims of the tragedy are still battling deadly diseases. Doctors say many survivors—and some from a generation born after the disaster—still suffer from deep psychiatric disorders and stunted growth while thousands of women have severe gynaecological problems.
President Bush is scheduled to arrive in India on March 1.