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Wanted in Bhopal Gas tragedy, Warren Anderson passes away

New York : Having escaped multiple calls for him to be extradited to be India to face prosecution for his role in the Bhopal gas tragedy which killed 3,787 and affected thousands for years later, former Union Carbide chief Warren Anderson reportedly passed away in a nursing home in Florida on 29 September. Anderson, who has been living in relative anonymity after retirement, reportedly passed away at a nursing home in Florida on 29 September but his death was not announced by his family, reported the New York Times which said it had accessed public documents that confirmed his death. Anderson, the son of a Swedish immigrants, rose from being a sales representative of Union Carbide to being the chairman of the company, but it was the one of the world's worst industrial tragedies on the night of 2 December, 1983 in the company's plant in Bhopal that came to define his later days. Anderson flew in to Bhopal on 7 December and was immediately arrested. Charged with culpable homicide not amounting to murder, grievous assault and killing and poisoning human beings and animals, he was soon released on bail under controversial circumstances. 

 According to CIA documents that were later released, the release of Anderson was reportedly ordered by the then central government, headed by Rajiv Gandhi. The central government reportedly felt that the Madhya Pradesh government was overly eager to score political points against Union Carbide in light of upcoming elections and that public pressure after the gas tragedy would force a new government to move cautiously in developing foreign investment with multinationals, especially US companies. Television visuals of the last time Anderson was in India showed the executive standing alongside the then Chief Minister Arjun Singh "House arrest or no arrest or bail, no bail, I am free to go home...There is a law of the United States...India, bye, bye, Thank you," Anderson had reportedly said. After returning to the US, Anderson had said, "Union Carbide has a moral responsibility in the matter and we aren't ducking it." However, the company maintained that it didn't have any legal liability arising from one of the world's worst industrial disasters, blaming the Indian subsidiary instead. It also paid the Indian government $470 million to settle legislation arising out of the incident and in 1986 Anderson resigned from the company's board. The former Union Carbide chief is accused of having been privy to a 1982 safety audit of the Bhopal plant that reportedly identified potential major hazards but Anderson allegedly sanctioned the required safety modifications only to a US plant that handled the same chemicals and not the Indian one. 

Anderson was declared an absconder by a magistrate in Bhopal, who had also ordered that Union Carbide's property be attached to the state. It also asked the CBI, which had been tasked with his extradition, in 2001 about the status of his extradition. However, multiple extradition requests from the Indian government fell on deaf ears in the US, despite a Bhopal court issuing an arrest warrant in 2009 and another issuing a non-bailable warrant against him in 1992. A Bhopal court in 2010 convicted seven former employees of Union Carbide India for their role in the tragedy, only prompting further calls for Anderson to be brought back to India. Anderson lived a life of relative anonymity after the tragedy preferring to ignore protesters who turned up outside his Hamptons home and reporters who attempted to get access to him, as he shuttled between family homes located in the US. Once when asked to describe the tragedy, Anderson said,"It must be like when someone loses a son or a daughter...You wake up in the morning thinking, can it possibly have occurred? And then you know it has, and you know it's something you're going to have to struggle with for a long time." For a executive who came to symbolise the worst effects of industrialisation and the failure to handle its fallout, Anderson's passing away ends an inconvenient chapter for the Indian government but brings little succour to the thousands who are still affected by the effects of it.

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