Bhopal Court Upholds Criminal Charges against Former Union Carbide CEO. (Environmental Intelligence)

Article excerpt

On August 28, the Indian courts rejected a bid to reduce criminal charges against Warren Anderson, who was the CEO of Union Carbide in 1984 when the company's pesticide factory in Bhopal leaked 40 tons of chemicals that killed thousands in the worst industrial accident in history.

India's Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) revealed in 1987 that the gas disaster was the result of conscious decisions taken by Anderson to scale back safety and alarm systems at the Bhopal plant in order to cut costs. Based on these findings, the Court of the Chief Judicial Magistrate of Bhopal charged Anderson with "culpable homicide" (the legal equivalent of manslaughter) and issued a warrant for his arrest in 1992. Anderson has avoided extradition from the United States and has refused to appear in court.

In May 2002, the CBI petitioned to reduce the charges against Anderson from "culpable homicide" to "criminal negligence," saying that convictions against the CEO ought to be in line with the lesser charges filed against the Indian plant managers. The reduced sentence would have protected Anderson from extradition, and reduced his maximum sentence from 10 years to two. Survivors and their supporters were outraged by the CBI motion, saying that Anderson bears greater responsibility than the Indian management because all major decisions took place at the company's U.S. headquarters. Over 1,000 supporters began a worldwide hunger strike to protest the potential dilution of charges.

Many activists believe the Indian government asked for the reduced charges to avoid embarrassing Dow Chemical, which acquired Union Carbide in 2001. According to Nityanand Jayaraman, an Indian activist with the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal, "India's capitulation to U.S. pressures is in response to U.S. warnings that the investment climate would be adversely affected if a U.S. corporate CEO were to be criminally prosecuted 18 years after the disaster."

At the August 28 hearing, Chief Judicial Magistrate Rameshwar Kothe rejected the CBI's petition, stating that charges against Indian plant managers had only been reduced after they appeared in court and filed an appeal. …