The Bhopal Marathon: The Strange Voyage of Warren Anderson (Part 2.)

1984 Bhopal gas disaster Union Carbide chairman Warren Anderson

This is the story of Warren Anderson, CEO of Union Carbide Corporation at the time of the disaster, and still wanted in India on the criminal charge of Culpable Homicide.


Part 2.

The gaunt Indian who seemed to be in charge was not interested in sympathy or sorrow. At his nod a tubby cop led you to a car, and then you were moving through the chaotic city.

‘Could we go via the factory,’ you asked. ‘I want to see it. I’d like to visit with the victims.’

The cop gave you a strange look. You arrived at a glass edifice that turned out to be your company guest house. It stood on a hill above a wide lake, its nearest neighbour the palace of the ex-rulers of Bhopal.

‘Look,’ you said, ‘I have no idea what’s going on, but I need to see that plant.’ You explained there were many things you wanted to check for yourself. For example in the small hours of the 3rd the wind had been blowing from the north, you wanted to see what lay to the south.
Again the strange looks.

‘From where do you get all such intelligence?’ asked the gaunt official none too politely.’

‘I demand to see the factory.’

‘I am afraid that is not possible.’
He informed you that you were under arrest, charged with culpable homicide of the thousands of people who were killed by the gas leak.

‘I had a promise,’ you protested. To this they didn’t reply, but showed you to a bedroom and left.

‘You can’t do this,’ you yelled. ‘Goddamn it, I’m an American.’

You heard a key turn.

You sat on the bed, and because you are human, we imagine that your confidence probably dissolved in a pulse of panic. If they had got you here on a weasel deal it could mean they were spitting with rage and could do – why could do absolutely anything – that cop with the face fins, that was real relish in his voice when he told you that the charges weren’t bailable. You could wind up in jail right here in India. Homicide! How the hell could this happen to you?

Homicide. How could they make a charge like that stick?
For you to be guilty of culpable homicide (in British law it would be called manslaughter) you’d have to have had prior knowledge that something awful was brewing in Bhopal, something that might result in death, and done nothing to avert it.

What evidence was there? Okay, there was that bad Christmas when a worker died in a phosgene spill. That was an accident, that was one guy. A few weeks later those 25 guys ended up in hospital from an MIC leak. Pump seal failed. No one died.

That May 1982 report. It found 10 major hazards, at least four of which could have been involved in the gas disaster. But our Indian guys had addressed those, hadn’t they? But with all that cost cutting going on, what if they hadn’t? It’s a Corporate Safety Program thing, the buck stops with me.

You can read the complete Bhopal Marathon publication online here

Girl with candle Bhopal

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