Who Betrayed the Bhopal Gas Victims

Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) was established in India, in the year 1934, when Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) became one of the first US companies to invest in the country. UCIL shares were publicly traded on the Calcutta Stock Exchange and the stocks were held by more then 23,000 share holders. UCC held 50.9 percent of the stock and 22 percent owned by government run insurance companies.

 UCIL was a diversified manufacturing company producing batteries, carbon products, welding equipment, plastics, industrial chemicals, pesticides, and marine products, The company was employing approximately 9,000 people and operating 14 plants that were organized in five divisions. The Bhopal plant produced pesticides for use in India, was built in technical collaboration with UCC in the late 1970s.

In 1984, UCIL was celebrating its 50th anniversary and the company’s sales was about $200 million annually. Its parent company, UCC had $9.5 billion in sales, reflecting its position as one of the largest industrial companies in the US and the world. International operations represented nearly 30 percent of its total sales for that year and the Indian operations accounted for less than 2 percent of corporate sales.

UCC as a company had huge clout with the US government, as a generous campaign donor, pushed its way with the Indian Government to manufacture SEVIN, a pesticide which was considered high technology status.

Unfortunately UCC had neither studied the Indian market nor the psychology of the Indian farmer. Sevin was very efficient in large US farms, but not in small patches of land the Indian farmers farmed in India. Insects fleeing from farms treated with Sevin ravaged neighbouring untreated farms. The Indian farmer was also unwilling to switch over to a hazardous pesticide. Moreover, the country faced severe drought and farming was substantially reduced. Stocks began to accumulate in Bhopal, with demand for Sevin not picking up.

The Bhopal plant became sick and beyond redemption which led the parent UCC to impose savage cost-cuts. The critical air-conditioning for methyl isocyanate (MIC) tanks was shut down. Many studies done later clearly revealed that the unwise and imprudent steps taken by UCIL to cut on safety systems. Net result was that across the Bhopal plant, there were signs of neglect and indifference. By 1981 several instances of neglect leading to gas poisoning and deaths had come to notice. A special team sent from UCC also drew pointed attention to several lapses and suggested rectification.

In 1982, Rajkumar Keswani, a local journalist, wrote a series of articles in Hindi titled ‘Bhopal on the edge of a volcano’, predicting that the disaster was waiting to happen. But all these early warnings went unheeded. It was very poor satisfaction for him that he got a young journalist award months after the disaster.

By October 1984, the possibility of dismantling the plant and shipping it to another developing country such as Brazil or Indonesia was considered and abandoned. One important factor which worked against the idea was that the MIC plant was so corroded that it could not be dismantled! A week before the tragedy, a decision was taken to sell the plant to a willing Indian buyer.

Just after midnight on December 3, 1984, a defective valve introduced a large amount of water into one of the MIC holing tanks (Tank 610) causing a massive chemical reaction.  The reaction caused the release of MIC through the relief-valve system. This, in turn, resulted in the Bhopal tragedy, the largest industrial disasters of the World.

On 4 December 1984, on hearing about the gas leak, the US-based Warren Anderson Chairman of UCC had flown down to Mumbai, India. He was arrested on 7 December, 1984 from the Bhopal Airport, four days after the world’s worst industrial disaster. According to reports, Moti Singh the then Bhopal Collector recalled how the Anderson landed at the airport casually with a gas mask in hand. He added that  “Anderson was taken aback when we told him that he was under arrest.” The arrested Anderson spent a few uncomfortable hours in the UCIL’s Research and Development Centre on the picturesque Shymla Hills near Bhopal.

But a couple of hours later, the State and Union Government started treating him like a ‘state guest’ and went the extra mile to make him feel comfortable. Just four hours after his arrest, a magistrate was taken to the Union Carbide guest house. Anderson was granted bail on a personal bond of Rs 25,000 and then he was taken in a police car to the airport where a state owned Cessna plane was waiting to take him to Delhi.

He was flown out of Delhi by a Continental flight to the US not to be seen in India again – I’m trying to be kind here – in an absurd drama enacted to cheat the Indian public. Anderson had been charged with culpable homicide, a charge which was later diluted.

Now that we know the history, here is ‘my charge sheet’ against the ‘mighty’ who betrayed the Bhopal Gas victims in the order of culpability.

Rajiv Gandhi (Prime Minister of India)

 Rajiv Gandhi had become Prime Minister only weeks earlier following Indira Gandhi’s assassination on 31 October, 1984. Reports allege that there was a mysterious call to Arjun Singh, the then Chief Minister of MP from Delhi and was given instructions to go soft on Anderson. Moti Singh, the then Collector too says that there was a call from Delhi to free Anderson.

Once the message reached Arjun Singh, he rushed in and made sure that the authorities treated Anderson well and was released without delay. Considering the haste and urgency with which Arjun Singh acted, it is obvious that the call from Delhi was from the highest authority – the Prime Minister’s Office. No Congress man would want the blame to fall on the Gandhi family and rightfully so as Rajiv was still guided by the chanakya of the Party, Narasimha Rao.

But Rajiv Gandhi must bear ultimate responsibility for allowing the government’s claim for settlement of US$ 3.3 billion from Union Carbide to be whittled down to a paltry US$ 470 million that was eventually paid, in 1989. The Gandhi family also should answer what was the hurry in dropping criminal charges immediately, without taking the victims into confidence and much before the VP Singh Government is sworn in.

Did the Congress Party fight 2 General Elections (1984 and 1989) with Bhopalgate? Who cut the deal both times? Why was there a hurry in dropping criminal charges in 1989?

Arjun Singh (Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh)

 He was the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh when the Bhopal gas tragedy happened on the intervening night of 2-3 December, 1984. He is the fall guy of the Congress Party today, but he has kept a stoic silence. After the initial enthusiasm to arrest the ‘villain of Bhopal’ Arjun Singh suddenly turned around and treated Anderson like a state guest. Unless he had given specific instructions, how could Anderson have got a plane to flee to Delhi and then to the US. On Dec 4th Arjun Singh and Rajiv Gandhi addressed a joint press conference confirming Anderson’s arrest.

Was Anderson the milking cow in the Congress Party’s hands before the General Election of 1984? Was Bhopal tragedy and subsequent electionwin a gateway to Delhi?

 Narasimha Rao (Home Minister, Union of India)

 The chanakya of the Congress Party till he became too ambitious and fell out with Sonia Gandhi, was the Home Minister of India then. He was also the patron saint who used to advice the young inexperienced Rajiv Gandhi when he was in need. With his position in Cabinet the mysterious call from Delhi which prompted Arjun Singh to release Anderson and use government plane to fly out of Bhopal could have originated from the Home Ministers Office rather than the Prime Ministers Office.

Narasimha Rao had also arranged Anderson, a man accused of killing 15,000 people and injuring thousands in the world’s worst industrial disaster, a meeting with him at the North Block as well as meeting with the then President Giani Zail Singh once he landed in Delhi.

Also Rao controlled the actions of the CBI, which operates under the Home Minister and later as the Prime Minister of India during the crutial phases of the Bhopal Investigation.

Under whose authority did Anderson step into the Rashtrapathi Bhavan and had tea with the President? What deal was cut by the Home Minister that day? How much was milked from Union Carbide?  Was that the funds for fighting the General Elections?

Ministry of Law & Justice, Union of India

By 7 December 1984 the first multi-billion dollar lawsuit was filed by an American attorney in a U.S. court.  But in March 1985, to the detriment of the victims of the largest Industrial tragedy in the World the Ministry of Law & Justice of India enacted the Bhopal Gas Leak Disaster Act in the guise of ensuring that claims arising from the accident would be dealt with speedily and equitably and to protect the victims from hundreds of ‘ambulance chasers’ from the US who descended on Delhi and Bhopal.

The Act, made the Government of India the sole trustee of the victims in legal proceedings both within and outside India. On 14 January 1987 , the US Second Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan upheld a decision by the US District Court to send the legal case against UCC to India and reaffirmed that UCIL, which operated the Bhopal plant, was a separate and independent legal entity that was managed and staffed by Indian citizens. So this Act eventually led to taking out all cases against UCC out of the US legal system and placed entirely under Indian jurisdiction with a rider that both the companies were separate entities.

Why was sole trustee hoax thrusted on the Bhopal Gas victims? Was the Bhopal Gas Leak Disaster Act intended to speedy and equitable resolution of claims?  Why did India not contest ‘the separate and independent legal entity’ verdict of the US Courts?

Justice A H Ahmadi

It was Justice A H Ahmadi who in 1996 ruled that vicarious criminal liability was unknown to criminal law; meaning, legally, UCC was not liable for the acts of its subsidiary, UCIL. Ahmadi’s legalism helped the UCC to get away by handing petty sums to the tragedy victims and reducing the criminal charges from Section 304, Part II – culpable homicide – that would have attracted 10 years in jail to that of Section 304A – causing death due to negligence – that could attract just 2 years in jail for killing over 15,000 people and miming about 5,00,000 people.

Justice Ahmadi, is now the Chairman of the Bhopal Memorial Hospital and Research Centre (BMHRC) which was set up on Supreme Court’s direction with money given by Union Carbide. The BMHRC, which was opened to public in 2001,  is another sham, as now 5 of its 16 departments had been closed down and around 300 staffers, including doctors, had left it for various reasons.

Why was UCC let of hook by Justice Ahmadi? Isn’t it judicial impropriety to become the Chairman of the trust funded by UCC? Why the charge of culpable homicide not slapped on Anderson to ensure that he was extradited to India?

 The Supreme Court of India

The Supreme Court directed the final settlement of all litigation in the amount of US$ 470 million to be paid by 31 March, 1989. The UCC accepted moral responsibility and settled all liabilities related to the accident, including cleaning up the site, with a $470 million out-of-court settlement with the Union Government.

Both the Indian Government and UCC accepted the court’s direction for payment of US$ 470 million. In May, 1989 the SC offered its rationale for the settlement. It stated that the compensation was higher than ordinarily payable under Indian law. But what missed the Supreme Courts eyes was that upon announcing this settlement, shares of UCC rose $2 per share or 7% in value.

The Bhopal Gas Tragedy was a catastrophe that has no parallel in industrial history but our judges overlooked conveniently. Did the honourable Judges pay any attention to international law? In the same year 1989 Exxon Valdez spilled 10.8 million gallons of crude oil in the waters near Alaska. Exxon had to shell out US$ 5 billion for a disaster in which no human lives were lost!

Why was there a huge gap between 3.3 billion US$ claimed by the government, and 470 million US$ received by it? Why did the Court take up the responsibility of negotiation rather than fix culpability? What was the amount pocketed by politicians?

The Central Bureau of Investigation

The CBI has always been used by the political bosses to meet their end. On 6 Dec 1984 the Bhopal Gas Tragedy case was handed over to the CBI. Under the Home Ministry the CBI could only endorse what Narasimha Rao the then Home Minster instructed. On 30 November, 1987, CBI filed chargesheet against Anderson, UCIL Chairman Keshub Mahindra and 7 others. The charges included culpuble homicide.

The CBI also failed to persue Anderson after 2 warrants were issued against him. The first court warrant was issued in 1992 and the second in 2009. The CBI had even failed to give any written response to the second warrant but met Chief Judicial Magistrate Mohan P Tiwari and orally conveyed to him that for the agency, Anderson’s case had been closed.

B R Lall, the former Joint Director of CBI and the officer investigating the case in 1995 when Narasimha Rao was the Prime Minister, has openly come out and claimed that it was the Ministry of External Affairs that had written to the CBI asking them not to pursue Anderson’s extradition.

K Vijay Rama Rao, the CB Director in 1995, J S Bawa CBI Director in 1984 and Joginder Singh, CBI Director who handled the case in the wake of the Supreme Court’s watering down the charges against the gas tragedy accused in 1996  has much to answer as the premier investigating agency which probed the tragedy did not question Anderson even once (in person or in writing or through other legal methods).

Why did CBI not give in writing that the Anderson case was dropped as far as the agency is concerned? Who prevented CBI from questioning Anderson before filing of charges? Was it Washington pressure that led India to let Anderson off the hook? Why did the CBI not apppeal when Justice Ahmedi decided to drop charges?

The Indian Council of Medical Research 

The ICMR was entrusted to study the long terms effects of the gas tragedy initially put the estimate to 8,000-10,000 deaths, which grossly understated the tragedy. But during the settlement in 1989 another figure was used only 3,000 people died and 1,02,000 suffered permanent disabilities’. But, the actual casualties were five times more — 5,54,895 survivors and relatives of 15,310 dead. In another study commissioned by ICMR in 1994, the estimates were revised to 25,000 deaths, from gas-related diseases. But N R Bhandari, a principal investigator for the ICMR in 5 out of 20 projects commissioned, says the government has suppressed, and never fully published the data.

There is evidence that, on 3 December 1984 at the time of the disaster, the storage tank temperature was 200°. MIC when exposed to this level of heat forms degraded MIC that contains the more deadly hydrogen cyanide (HCN). Doctors say that some of the patients of the gas tragedy responded to anti-cyanide therapy. Initially UCC also recommended anti-cyanide therapy, but withdrew the recommendation later as an afterthought.

Why was a second study commissioned in 1994 much after the settlement in 1989? Why was ICMR not given permission by to publish the data ? Why was UCC allowed to manipulate, obfuscate and withhold scientific data of the disaster? Why was Cyanide poisoning evidence (‘cherry-red colour of blood and viscera’) not investigated? Why did the government’s own medical evidence work against the gas victims?

Dow Chemical Company

In February 2001, Dow Chemical Company, another US multinational acquired UCC for $11.6 billion, and made UCC a subsidiary. But Dow claims that in 1994 UCC sold its Indian subsidiary UCIL, which had operated the Bhopal plant and subsequently UCIL changed its name to Eveready Industries India Ltd. Legally and morally Dow has a huge liability, on hand for cleaning the Bhopal factory, which has been lying in an ‘as-was-where-was’ state since the tragedy, but Dow claims otherwise. The remaining toxic stocks continue to leak and seep into subsoil threatening the life of future generations of Bhopal.

 This is the same company Chidambaram and Kamal Nath lobbied for with the government to write off the compensation for Bhopal victims due from it, in return for promised foreign investment. Abhishek Singhvi the Congress Party spokesman has been pleading as legal counsel for Dow. Funny as it may sound all the 3 claims that there is no conflict of interest.

 In 2001 when asked about possible Bhopal claims, Jon Musser, Dow PR, said, “It won’t ever happen.” How confident. Another Dow PR official, Kathy Hunt, said, “$500 (compensation) is plenty for an Indian.” How arrogant.

What is the reason for this arrogance and confidence of Dow officials? Why is our political leaders so openly courting Dow Chemical? How can Dow claim it has no liability? Where is Confederation of Indian Industry and Federation of Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry?  Way are our Industry bodies silent in light of the worst industrial disaster of the world?

Brahma Swaroop, (Madhya Pradesh Chief Secretary)

Brahma Swaroop, the then Madhya Pradesh Chief Secretary. He allegedly called up the Collector to inform him that a plane was waiting at the airport for Anderson to be taken to Delhi. Moti Singh, the then Collector claims “The chief secretary summoned me to his chamber in secretariat and said that Mr Anderson was to be released and sent to Delhi by a plane which was awaiting him at the airport,”

Will Swaroop tell the nation under whose instructions did he call the collector? How could instruct the Collector to grand bail to Anderson who was arrested on a non-bailable offence on a case on which Madhya Pradesh government had no jurisdiction having issued a notification to hand over the case to CBI on 4 Dec 1984 itself?

Soraj Puri (Madhya Pradesh Superintend of Police)

Instead of following the rule of law and buckling under pressure from his political bosses, he along with the Bhopal Collector escorted Anderson to the Bhopal Airport. His own officers had booked Anderson immediate after his arrest on 7 December 2010 under IPC Section 304, Part II – culpable homicide – that would have attracted 10 years in jail.

Who gave Soraj Puri the authority to grand bail to Anderson when Madhya Pradesh police had no jurisdiction as the CBI had already taken up the case ? How could he grand bail for a non-bailable offence?

Moti Singh (Bhopal District Collector)

Moti Singh, the Bhopal Collector, is the only one who has come out in the open. But he is on a holier than thou mode. He says he was just following instructions and he never questioned his boss,  Brahma Swaroop, Chief Secretary because “he was a man of few words and would not have liked it.”

How could he grand bail to Anderson who was arrested on a non-bailable offence? Did the court/magistrate go to the Union Carbide guest house on 7 December, 1984 to grant bail to Anderson?

British Petroleum is not an American Company and that doesn’t stop President of United States of America, Barak Obama from cracking the whip at them.

Where are our whips?

Though I think we should only self flagellate first. So, instead of chasing Anderson, let men of few words and others – the Congress Party, the district magistrate, the officers who investigated the Bhopal Gas case, the CBI, the Pollution Control Board, the CII, the FICI and the CAG come out in the open. Like in the days of kings and queens, let the traitors be tried first, not Anderson. Traitors can let down the nation many times, criminals like Anderson only once.

Recommended Reading

http://ukpmc.ac.uk/classic/articlerender.cgi?artid=382164 – Copyright 2005 Broughton; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.

http://epaper.expressbuzz.com/NE/NE/2010/06/14/ArticleHtmls/14_06_2010_009_003.shtml?Mode=1 – Copyright Gurumurthy; Indian Express South Ltd.

https://braintoast.wordpress.com/2010/06/07/bhopal-tragedy-civil-liability/ Copyright Author

  1. Do you have any video of that? I’d care to find out some additional information.


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