Washington, Oct 31 (IANS) Warren Anderson, the former CEO of Union Carbide Corp, has died at 92 after living for 30 years under the shadow of the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy that killed thousands.
The death of the man under whose watch the tragedy that still haunts India took place was reported by the New York Times Friday, more than a month after he died Sep 29 at a nursing home in Vero Beach, Florida.
The family did not announce the death. The Times said it had confirmed from public records after an article appeared in Vero Beach 32963, the weekly newspaper of the Vero Beach barrier island.
Rights activists in Bhopal said it was a pity Anderson died without facing trial for the horrific gas disaster. Activists who spoke to IANS also denounced the Indian and US governments for not taking steps to have him extradited to India.
Anderson flew to Bhopal four days after the world’s worst industrial disaster and was arrested. But after paying bail he left India and never returned to face trial.
The Daily Beast had earlier reported how Anderson lived the life of “an international fugitive” — after an Indian court issued an arrest warrant for him and he was declared an absconder.
A 130-year-old white wooden frame house ringed by a white picket fence and shaded by tall maples and a garden in Bridgehampton in New York was his shelter.
That’s where the son of a Brooklyn carpenter who ascended to the top of Union Carbide lived since poisonous gas leaked from his company’s pesticide plant in Bhopal on the night of Dec 2-3, 1984.
The gas killed over 3,000 people instantly and thousands others over the years. Thousands were injured and maimed, many suffering lung cancer, kidney failure, liver disease and eye disorders after coming into contact with methyl iso cyanate (MIC).
In 1989, Union Carbide paid $470 million to the Indian government to settle litigation stemming from the disaster. The settlement was denounced by rights activists as peanuts in view of the tragedy.
Since retiring in 1986, Anderson “couldn’t even go out to dinner without worrying about process servers”, the news portal cited a former Carbide executive as recalling.
But despite carrying an oxygen tank to help his breathing, Anderson still played golf.
The New York Times recalled that five months after the tragedy, Anderson spoke of his feelings of loss and helplessness.
“You wake up in the morning thinking, can it have occurred?” he was quoted as saying. “And then you know it has and you know it’s something you’re going to have to struggle with for a long time.”
After the Bhopal tragedy, for the first time in his life, Anderson, who had devoted his life to climbing the Carbide corporate ladder, couldn’t sleep, the Times said.
“He and his wife, Lillian, spent evenings reading newspaper articles about the tragedy to each other.”
Activists in Bhopal were livid.
“It is a matter of great shame that this corporate criminal has died unshackled because of the protection offered by the US government and the negligence of the Indian government,” Satinath Sarangi of the Bhopal Group for Information and Action told IANS.
Sarangi, a metallurgical enginee-turned-activist who has been in Bhopal since the disaster, said Anderson deserved to face charges of homicide and grievous assault that would have sent him to prison for life.
“Unfortunately that did not happen,” he said.
Another activist, Abdul Jabbar, said Anderson was very much to blame for the Bhopal tragedy and that is why the Central Bureau of Investigation named him the no. 1 accused.
“A Bhopal judge issued a warrant for his arrest in March 1992. But just imagine, after so many years this was never executed and Anderson remained a free man.”
Sarangi and Jabbar put the number of deaths caused by the Bhopal disaster at between 25,000 and 35,000.
“Today there are 120,000-150,000 people with chronic illnesses caused by the gas leak,” Sarangi said.
“Tens of thousands of second generation children suffer from growth and development disorders. And an unusually large number of children also have birth defects in Bhopal.”