Union Carbide shields former chairman Anderson
The Asian Age website

San Francisco, May 28, 2000: Warren Anderson, chairman of Union Carbide at the time of the Bhopal gas disaster in December 1984 and prime accused in the criminal case filed in an Indian court, may have finally responded to a civil suit naming him and Union Carbide but he continues to remain “a proclaimed absconder” due to his failure to appear in hearings in a criminal case filed in India.

The Indian government, following criminal proceedings against Mr Anderson and Union Carbide, has also issued an arrest warrant for him and informed Interpol that he is a fugitive.

Attorneys, acting on behalf of Mr Anderson, recently accepted service in a civil suit filed in the United States district court for the southern district of New York. The suit charges the company with violating international law and fundamental human rights of the victims and survivors of the Bhopal tragedy. It states, “The defendants are liable for fraud and civil contempt for their total failure to comply with the lawful orders of the courts of both the United States and India.”

William Heck, an attorney with Kelley, Drye and Warren, the law firm representing Union Carbide Corporation, refused to confirm whether or not his firm had accepted service on behalf of Mr Anderson in this civil suit. Mr Heck said he was not prepared to answer questions related to his firm’s personal business with its clients.

Tomm Sprick, manager communications at Union Carbide, did, however, readily acknowledge that service had been accepted in the civil case. As regards the criminal case in India, Mr Sprick said the courts in India were taking testimonies periodically. “As opposed to the way things function in the US the Indian courts don’t meet regularly to discuss the case,” he said.

Raj Sharma, a practicing attorney with Goodkind, Labaton, Rudoff & Sucharow, a New York-based law firm involved in the case, on the other hand explained that the case hadn’t moved significantly in India largely due to Union Carbide’s failure to appear.

Asked what had prompted Union Carbide’s attorneys to accept service in the civil case in New York even as they continue to dodge cases pending against the company in India, Mr Sprick said this case had been transferred from India and rather than “play it out, the company felt it would be better to tackle it head on.”

Quizzed further on whether Union Carbide would follow a similar line of action in the criminal cases pending in Indian courts rather than shielding Mr Anderson, Mr Sprick preferred not to comment. The company argues that it is not required to provide further compensation to victims of the disaster after a 1989 settlement for $470 million in a civil case brought by the Indian government.

“The settlement with the government of India in 1989 of all claims arising from the Bhopal tragedy did not just cover Union Carbide, it covered all directors, officers and employees, including Warren Anderson,” Sean Clancy, spokesman at Union Carbide’s corporate headquarters in Danbury, Connecticut, was quoted as saying in a New York Times report in March this year. “Based on that settlement, we see no reason to encourage any disturbance of Mr Anderson, who retired as chairman 12 years ago,” he added.

The chief judicial magistrate, Bhopal, had proclaimed Warren Anderson and Union Carbide Corporation “absconders” and proclamations against these two prime accused were published in the Washington Post in 1992. Both ignored the proclamations. Mr Anderson, who retired from Union Carbide in 1989, now lives in Florida.

“Mr Anderson is still a fugitive in the US as he is evading criminal prosecution for which he signed a bail bond of Rs 25,000. Somewhere down the line he will have to be produced for deposition,” said Mr Sharma.

Defending Union Carbide’s decision not to accept service in criminal cases filed in India, Mr Sprick said: “Since overwhelming evidence has shown that the gas leakage was the result of sabotage by an employee, the leakage was an incident which was unforeseen to everyone else at Union Carbide. We feel there is no point criminalising a case that was obviously the result of sabotage. We are now pushing for prompt settlement of claims so that the victims can be compensated.”

Prompted for more details about the alleged saboteur, Mr Sprick said: “We know who the employee is but it would do no service to identify the individual. We did tell the Central Bureau of Investigation all we knew and also gave them the evidence.”

Mr Raj Sharma said while Union Carbide had for ages been claiming the disaster was the handiwork of a disgruntled employee he had not seen any reasonable defence of this theory. “First they blamed a Sikh terrorist group, then they blamed the Indians for setting up a faulty plant and now they claim it’s sabotage by a disgruntled employee.

If it is indeed sabotage one would think Union Carbide would be keen to take any opportunity to clear its name,” Mr Sharma said, adding that he could not really comment on the merits of this case.

David Romero, manager, litigation support, at the New York law offices of Curtis V. Trinko, which filed a suit challenging
the merger of Dow Chemical Company with Union Carbide, said that unlike Mr Anderson, a handful of Indian managers
who were working at the Union Carbide factory at the time of the disaster had appeared in an Indian court in connection with this case. “They did the right thing by standing up as men while their former boss is now evading the law,” he said.

The explosion took place during routine maintenance at the plant on the night of December 3, 1984. A storage tank containing 60 tonnes of methyl isocyanate filled with water, apparently from leaky valves and corroded pipes, set off a runaway reaction.

Corey Conn, coordinator of the International Alliance for Justice in Bhopal, felt that on the face of it the incident seemed like an accident but even the slightest investigation revealed the tragedy was the outcome of Union Carbide’s efforts to “cut corners and costs.”

“They were carrying out key maintenance procedures at a less frequent basis. They cut off the power to the tower used to neutralise toxic gases. They also shut off the siren to avoid it going off constantly when minor accidents took place. All this was a recipe for disaster,” Mr Conn said.

By Ashish Kumar Sen