17 Corporate Crime Reporter 30(12), July 28, 2003
INTERVIEW WITH SATINATH SARANGI, BHOPAL GROUP FOR INFORMATION AND ACTION, BHOPAL, INDIA
It's been 19 years, and still Union Carbide and its former chairman, Warren Andersen, are fugitives from justice.
A deadly gas leak from Union Carbide's pesticide factory in Bhopal on December 3, 1984, poisoned at least 500,000 people.
More than 8,000 people died within three days and over 20,000 people have died to date as a result of their exposure.
Union Carbide and Andersen were charged with manslaughter, but they refuse to appear before the Indian courts.
Earlier this year, the government of India formally requested extradition from the United States. To no avail.
To gain some insight into the ongoing ordeal, we called on Satinath Sarangi of the Bhopal Group for Information and Action. Sarangi is perhaps the most knowledgeable Indian activist on the disaster and the criminal case.
We reached him at his offices in Bhopal on July 23, 2003.
CCR: What is your work?
CCR: Where did you go to school?
I got my masters in metallurgical engineering. I did three years of my PhD, specializing in iron and steel. I dropped out in 1984 around the time of the disaster.
CCR: The Bhopal disaster affected your education.
CCR: What have you been doing since the 1984 disaster?
CCR: You went from being an engineer to being an activist?
CCR: Tell us what happened in 1984. When was it?
Over 40 tons of methyl isocyanate, and other gases such as hydrogen cyanide, leaked from a pesticide factory that was owned and run by Union Carbide Corporation USA.
Because Union Carbide wanted to cut down on costs, they cut back on vital safety systems. There were seriously and grossly underdesigned safety systems. And some of these safety systems were turned off. Because of all of these reasons, the gases leaked, and covered almost all of the city of Bhopal, exposing 500,000 people to this deadly cocktail of gases.
About 8,000 people died in the first three days. More than 20,000 people have died so far. And people continue to die today. The exposure causes multi-systemic damages. About 120,000 to 150,000 continue to be ill from the exposure.
CCR: What are some of the symptoms?
There is also immune system disruption, which means that people are more prone to infectious diseases -- like tuberculosis. Birth defects -- retarded growth among boys, many more menstrual problems among girls. Too many people with diabetes, hypertension, thyroid problems.
After all of these years, there is now a rise of cancers among people.
CCR: What was Union Carbide's initial response?
The company kept on changing the story without offering one iota of evidence. They brought forth the testimony of a tea boy -- a waiter -- who worked in the canteen. He said that they saw some people who were talking in a hushed manner.
But in fact, we have documents showing that Union Carbide and Warren Andersen, who was part of the management committee then, as far back as in 1972, knew that this would be an unsafe facility because they were going to send unproven technology. And they mentioned this very clearly. In the proposal for the methyl isocyanate plant, they said that by using this unproven technology they were going to save $8 million.
They also mentioned that if they spend less money, Union Carbide Corporation USA would continue to have majority stakes, which could be diluted if the Indian facility spent more. Union Carbide owned close to 60 percent of the facility at the time. It went down to about 50.9 percent at the time of the disaster.
CCR: Why did the US parent want to keep control?
CCR: In response to the disaster, the company offered money to the
The government of India then sued Union Carbide in the federal court in New York -- in Judge John Keenan's court. The government claimed $3.3 billion. Union Carbide fought that, arguing that U.S. citizens should not be paying money for a case that essentially should have been brought in India. They argued that this was an inconvenient forum.
Keenan, on grounds of forum non conveniens, sent the case back to India with the proviso that Union Carbide would have to abide by the judgments of an Indian court.
In 1985, the case went to New York.
In 1986, it came back to India.
The matter was in the District Court in Bhopal. Union Carbide threatened to cross-examine all claimants, which would take something like 1500 to 2000 years.
At that time, the survivor organizations moved a petition arguing that there should be a provision of interim relief, so that a bulk of money gets to the victims.
If the case was decided in favor of Union Carbide, the government would give the money back to Union Carbide. Otherwise, it would be added onto the final compensation.
CCR: Was there an interim settlement?
Union Carbide appealed the order, and it went to the Supreme Court of India.
On February 14, 1989, there was an announcement that the Supreme Court had sanctioned a final settlement for $470 million.
The three conditions for settlement were that all civil liabilities -- past, present and future -- will be extinguished. Second, that all criminal charges would be quashed. These are criminal charges of manslaughter, grievous assault, assault, killing and poisoning of animals. These were charges brought against three corporations -- Union Carbide Corporation USA, Union Carbide Eastern Hong Kong, and Union Carbide India Ltd. Also charged with nine officials -- Warren Andersen and eight other Indian officials.
That was the second condition. The third condition was that in the future, in any lawsuits brought against Union Carbide, the government of India would defend the case.
CCR: Was the initial settlement of $270 million ever paid?
Union Carbide eventually paid $420 million. The Indian subsidiary paid $45 million. They refused to pay $5 million, which was paid in the beginning to the American Red Cross, which was given to the Indian Red Cross.
CCR: Where did the $465 million go?
CCR: Was the money distributed to the victims?
CCR: How much did a death survivor get?
CCR: What about for injuries?
CCR: What is left from the $470 million?
CCR: What will be done with that money?
Just as a claimant in a motor vehicle accident case, or a worker's compensation case is entitled to the interest on the compensation, thus people in Bhopal should be allowed to collect this interest.
This matter was heard, and the government recently submitted a reply, saying that they did not have an objection in principle to this. But they said that 16,000 claimants remain, and they say it will take eight years to litigate their cases.
CCR: Where would you like the money to go?
CCR: Why shouldn't the money go to charitable institutions like yours
who are helping the people?
CCR: What happened to the facility itself?
CCR: Who owns the facility?
CCR: What was the genesis of the criminal case?
CCR: In retrospect, he shouldn't have been released, right?
CCR: The company was also charged with crimes.
After the settlement, the criminal charges were quashed. People protested in the streets and in the courts in 1989, 1990. Finally, on October 3, 1991, the final settlement was agreed to. In approving the final settlement, the court upheld the $470 million from Carbide. It said that if there is a shortfall, the Indian government should make up the shortfall. And secondly, it reinstated the criminal charges. It ordered the case to proceed.
The court sent a summons to Union Carbide and to Warren Andersen. Proclamations were published in the Washington Post in 1992. Andersen refused to go to India. And Union Carbide refused to appear.
CCR: What about the Indian companies and the other eight individuals?
CCR: It's been since 1991, and the criminal case is still going on?
CCR: Why is it taking so long?
In 1992, Union Carbide Eastern Hong Kong, which was a Delaware registered, 100 percent subsidiary of Union Carbide, was dissolved. When the criminal case was restarted, Union Carbide just deregistered the companies. They shuffled the boards onto two new companies -- Union Carbide Asia and Union Carbide Asia Pacific, both based in Hong Kong. The prosecutors here did not know how to get a hold of a corporation that has been deregistered.
CCR: Who is the prosecutor in this case?
CCR: Is there one person in charge of this case?
CCR: Is she serious about this case?
CCR: Were the previous officials serious about the case?
CCR: This woman is both serious and competent?
One other point. When Union Carbide continued to abscond, the court said that if Union Carbide does not present itself, it was going to attach all of its properties, which were the shares that Union Carbide Corporation had in the Indian subsidiaries. That was in February 1992.
The shares in the Indian subsidiary were confiscated by the court.
The Indian government set up a trust in England. It was set up by an attorney at Sidley & Austin. The lawyer's name was Ian Percival. He was the solicitor general of England at the time of Margaret Thatcher.
He became the sole trustee. He came to India two years later and he told the Supreme Court to give permission to sell the shares to fund the gas victims interest. He also pleaded that the criminal charges be dropped so that the shares could be sold at a higher price so that more victims could benefit from this money. It was a devious kind of argument.
Of course, the charges were not dropped. The shares were sold to another company, which was a spinoff of a British multinational -- Williamson Magor.
CCR: How could they sell the shares if they were confiscated by the
CCR: When was the hospital ordered built?
CCR: How much were the confiscated shares worth?
CCR: The criminal case is still proceeding. Are the prosecutors making
We are in the case assisting the prosecution.
CCR: Why did the extradition request come down now after all of this
CCR: What made them change their minds?
CCR: Is there an extradition treaty between the U.S. and India?
CCR: The company merged with Dow Chemical. When was that?
CCR: What has been the response of Dow Chemical?
They first took the position that they could not be held responsible for a factory they did not run in a place they did not visit. Finally, they agreed to talk on things.
After a year of negotiations, we found that they were taking advantage of the fact that we were talking with them. They were using it as a public relations campaign, but actually not delivering anything. We asked that they give us things that don't even cost money. Give us the results of the research on the effects of methyl isocyanate on living systems. We knew about these studies, but we couldn't get them.
They took two or three months to understand the question, and then they sent us information from the Internet, which we could have gotten ourselves.
So, basically, we found that we were wasting time in these negotiations. So, we held worldwide demonstrations against Dow. At the recent meeting we had with the CEO, William Stavropoulous. We met with him in Midland, Michigan on May 8, 2003. He said he could do nothing and we should go to the government of India.
The CEO who proceeded Stavropoulous was Michael Parker. We met him a year before. He said that we should use the money that was left behind in the bank to clean up Bhopal. This was the first time that anyone suggested anything like that. We demanded that the claimants had the right to the money, and that Dow would have to pay from their own accounts for the cleanup.
CCR: You want the site cleaned up by Dow?
We want Dow to force Warren Andersen and Union Carbide to present themselves in the criminal court in India. Second, they should provide medical care research and monitoring for survivors and the next generation. And third they should clean up the contaminated soil and water and provide clean water. And fourth, they should take care of the social and economic rehabilitation of the survivors.
CCR: Wouldn't Dow be facing the criminal charges now that the companies
CCR: Does Union Carbide Corporation still exist?
CCR: Where is Warren Andersen?
CCR: Who is your lawyer?
CCR: Who is your lawyer?
CCR: Who represents the company?
CCR: Who is representing Andersen in the criminal case?
CCR: What impact did this disaster have on life in Bhopal?
CCR: How did it change you?
[Contact: Satinath Sarangi, Bhopal Group for Information and Action, B 2-302 Sheetal Nagar, Berasia Road, Bhopal 462018 India. Phone: 011 91 755 274 3157. E-mail: [email protected]. Web: www.bhopal.net]