Indian government tried to hide Anderson extradition news


Information received by Bhopal.Net suggests that the Indian government has gone to great trouble to stifle news of its move to extradite Warren Anderson, ex Chairman of Union Carbide, from the U.S.

Written confirmation from an official within the Indian Embassy in Washington D.C. reveals that the extradition papers were passed to the U.S. Department of Justice by the Embassy as long ago as 20 May. Yet until the story broke just over a week ago in the Indian magazine The Statesman, nothing at all was said.

According to the ICJB's Sarvadarshi Gupta, "The government was desperate to suppress the news until after the June visit to the United States of Indian Deputy Prime Minister, K.L.Advani, who met Attorney General John Ashcroft. Advani and Ashcroft must have talked about Anderson, but clearly they didn't want the media getting hold of the story. It would have been embarrassing and would have overshadowed the other issues they discussed."

Extradition was one of the subjects discussed by Ashcroft and Advani, who also met George Bush, Condoleeza Rice and Colin Powell.

The two countries last December signed a bilateral extradition treaty, agreeing not to extradite each other's nationals to third parties. This, although clearly intended as a snub to the International Criminal Court, does not protect Anderson against extradition from the U.S. to India.

No response to the extradition request has so far been received from the Americans, and Bhopal survivors fear that some kind of behind the scenes deal may have been attempted.

ICJB campaigner Krishnaveni Gundu said, "We will mobilise our huge support in the United States and campaign strongly to make sure that justice is done and clearly seen to be done. Justice has been held up too long."

Nearly two decades after the world's worst industrial disaster, no officer of the company responsible has ever had to appear in court to face questioning.

The current case in Bhopal, which was revived in 1991 by order of the Indian Supreme Court, cannot proceed without its principal accused and survivors want Anderson and Union Carbide Corporation to appear before the court in order that the matter can finally be resolved.

Says survivor Sunil Kumar, "Anderson and Union Carbide claim they have done no wrong. Fine. Let them come to the court. They need have no fear, because in India just like in the U.S., a person is assumed to be innocent until proven otherwise."

According to another survivor, S. Gangaram, "Anderson and Union Carbide are behaving like guilty people. It looks like they themselves believe they are guilty because they fear the court and have been running away from it for eleven years."

In fact eighteen and a half years have passed since Warren Anderson signed a bail bond promising to return to India if required to do so by the police or court. He never returned. In 1992, a non-bailable warrant was issued for his arrest.

Media attention has refocused on Anderson's case since last August when the Indian government sought to reduce criminal charges against Anderson from "culpable homicide" to "a rash and negligent act".

The move provoked an international outcry. Survivors and supporters went on a globally publicised hunger strike with 1,000 people around the world joining the fast, demanding that the original charges should stand and that Anderson should be extradited to face trial.

On 28 August 2002, Judge Rameshwar Kothe threw out the government's application, rebuked it for wasting the court's time and ordered the CBI (India's FBI) to proceed immediately with Anderson's extradition.

Months passed until February 2003 when an all-party committee of Indian MPs savaged the government for unaccountably dragging their heels with the extradition request.

On 20 May, the papers were finally served to the Americans.

Despite furious street demonstrations nine days later in Bhopal demanding Anderson's extradition, and despite the Ministry of External Affairs coming in for heavy criticism for its apparent unwillingness to proceed, there was no comment from the government.

This was apparently infuriating to CBI officials, whose frustration at being blamed for the delays is well known.

Almost a month passed before a frustrated official decided to leak the sensational news and contacted reporter Aloke Tikku, whose story, citing an unnamed source, duly appeared in The Statesman where the world's media missed it, but the keen eyes of the ICJB did not.

Additional reporting by Sarvadarshi Gupta in Washington D.C.