The people most responsible for the disaster in Bhopal will not be in the courtroom when the verdict against the Indian defendants is announced. Union Carbide Corporation and its ex-Chairman Warren Anderson, and Union Carbide Eastern, have refused since 1992 to obey the summons of the court and answer charges of culpable homicide. The evidence against them has remained largely unheard, as the prosecution sought to focus on the small fry, the Indian managers, who were, despite their own failings and shortcomings, ultimately implementing decisions and carrying out orders that originated in the United States.
UCC’s appointee to run the Indian subsidiary. Muñoz testifies that the MIC plant in Bhopal was designed and its construction managed by the Engineering Department of Group 1, UCC in South Charleston, West Virginia, who also designed the three huge MIC tanks. This group overruled Muñoz’s and UCIL’s objections to storing MIC in such large quantities, contrary to normal industry practice. Control over Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) was strictly maintained by Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) directly and through its holding company Union Carbide Eastern (UCE) whose managing director was a UCC Corporate Vice President.
Obtained under the Freedom of Information Act (although almost half the documents requested were refused on the grounds that they contained “trade secrets”), they confirm that the plant was designed and goods and services for it were to be procured in the US. UCC would also furnish technical services during the first five years of operation. (MIC production began on May 4, 1980 and the five years were not yet up at the time of the catastrophic gas leak)
On December 24, 1981 a faulty valve gushed phosgene liquid over a factory worker, Ashraf Khan, who died a horrible death after several hours of suffering. A safety audit was ordered and carried out in May 1982 by American safety engineers from UCC. They identified 61 hazards, 30 of them major and 11 in the dangerous phosgene/MIC unit. The page excerpted from the report is uncannily prophetic in its description of the risks involved in trying to clean filters without slipbinding process lines or addressing leaky valves. It recorded MIC leaks, some of which were not able to be controlled.
This document sets out the clearest possible proof that the affairs of the UCIL plant in Bhopal were being run by UCC. Lamenting the steady stream of losses that were accruing, the UCIL Board, said UCE, were keen to establish “what UCC is going to do to resolve the problem”. UCE reported that a programme of vigorous cost-cutting “including a reduction of 335 men” had resulted in savings of $1.25 million, but warned that there was pretty much nothing left to cut. (Cuts in manpower, safety training and maintenance were all major contributors to the disaster.) The plan outlined by UCE and approved by Warren Anderson was to dismantle the Bhopal factory and ship it to Brazil or Indonesia. UCE acknowledged that the Alpha Napthol facility would be impossible to sell because it was “unproven”. This corroborated the fears about “unproven technology” expressed by engineers in the earliest project proposal for the MIC plant. The board decided that it was an acceptable risk. The full proposal can be seen here. The crucial pages are 10, 11 and 12.
Bhopal’s ‘sister’ factory had markedly superior systems but nonetheless this survey warned that “a runaway reaction could occur in one of the MIC Unit Storage tanks and that response to such a situation would not be timely or effective enough to prevent a catastrophic failure of the tank.” UCC did not circulate the report to the Bhopal factory and less than seven weeks later, its grim warning came true and caused the excruciating deaths of thousands of innocent people in a night.
Magazine article written by Rob Hager, published summer 1995, analysing Union Carbide’s historical attitude to risk, its strong ties with the US establishment, and its strategies for evading responsibility for the disaster in Bhopal. Hager identifies Carbide’s triple legal strategy – collusive class action settlement, the bankruptcy defence, and the use of forum non conveniens, which he describes as avoiding an inconvenient rule of law. He notes the role played by lawyers and judge presiding over the Bhopal case in New York, the likelihood of an arms deal being struck between the governments of Rajiv Gandhi and Ronald Reagan, Rajiv Gandhi’s and the Indian Supreme Court’s sell out of the Bhopal victims in the “Valentine’s Day” settlement of 1989, the subsequent reversal by incoming Prime Minister V.P. Singh and the continuing clashes and contradictions between politicians and high officials, including the Attorney General Soli Sorabjee who went out of his way to argue against requesting the extradition of Warren Anderson.
Forty two pages of argument by Michael V. Ciresi about why Union Carbide’s “forum non conveniens” plea should be dismissed, setting out the case against UCC. Reading this after Hager’s article throws a particular and grim light on what was going on behind the scenes.
Union Carbide’s submission to the Securities and Exchange Commission dated August 3, 1999 in which it falsely declares that “there are no (i) civil, criminal or administrative actions, suits, claims, hearings, investigations or proceedings pending or, to the actual knowledge of its executive officers, threatened against it or any of its Subsidiaries”. At the time of writing, UCC had been facing criminal charges in India for seven years and had been declared an “absconder from justice”.
Obtained via a FOIA request. A May 1, 2003 exchange of emails between officials in the US Department of Justice and the State Department. The subject of the thread is “Mike or Bruce may start getting calls on Indian extradition request in Bhopal case”. Speaking of their strategy for getting Anderson off the hook, Samuel M. Witten remarks, “Hope it works.” Molly Warlow of the Department of Justice speaks of Anderson being accused of “some sort of negligent homicide in connection with the disaster at the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal in 1984” and reveals that “there had been extensive discussions with India in the past about pursuing a criminal homicide case against UCC executives would not be helpful.”
This opinion by Joseph E Geoghan, Union Carbide’s Chief International Counsel, dated July 24, 2003 reveals that the US administration’s concern was not with justice but with business. “The (extradition) request should be rejected. No issue has greater potential to destroy US business leaders’ confidence in India than the handling of the Warren Anderson case.” The document goes on to mount a disingenuous defence of Anderson, and notes that the Indian government had waited 11 years before submitting the extradition request, something the Bhopal survivors had long complained about. Read this story about a 1991 meeting between Joseph Geoghan and Satinath Sarangi of the Bhopal Group for Information and Action.
Email dated July 20, 2004 from Karen Doyne, Burson Marsteller’s New York chief of Crisis & Issues Management to Union Carbide counsel William Krohley and Dow/Union Carbide public affairs spokesmen John Musser and Scott Wheeler. The subject is “US rejects India’s request for extradition of Warren Anderson and Doyne writes “Looks like the news is out.” This was the day that news broke and the email clearly demonstrates that the US government departments handling the extradition had been working with Dow and Carbide and their PR agency.
The snippets of information sent from Mumbai include information that then Minister of State for Chemicals and Fertilizers Tapan Sikdar had told parliament that “the investigation agency (CBI) had been asked to strengthen the evidentiary links connecting Anderson to the Bhopal gas leak tragedy.”
But former CBI Joint Director B. R. Lall, speaking after the June 7 verdict revealed that, “The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) received a letter from the Ministry of External Affairs that the extradition proceedings should not be pursued; obviously the government’s intention was to not include him (US citizen Anderson heading the Union Carbide). I do not know what the agreement was between the two countries on the issue. And anyway, in a country like ours, no investigations can be done against the rich and people with high contacts.”
Former CBI Joint Director B. R. Lall speaking after the June 7 verdict on Indian television
A further snippet from the Mumbai spook’s dispatches says “G.O.I. (Government of India) officials may well feel that, for political reasons, they need to perceived as being concerned about extraditing Anderson.”