The TV channels have worked themselves into a lather about Warren Anderson, and I don't see why. The then Chairman of Union Carbide need never have stepped on Indian soil after the gas leak. He obviously came with some deal having been struck in advance. Even without such a deal, he'd have been bailed after a few days of custody.
It's always convenient to blame the foreigners. So what if the Bhopal plant was entirely under Indian management, as required by Indian law? So what if we don't yet know what triggered the leak? So what if we've put no measures in place to cope with another such accident?
We've never been too fussed about safety. I remember being part of a crew filming a corporate documentary a few years ago. The person assigned to help us was from the safety department. His primary job during the shoot was ensuring that everyone in the frame had hard hats on. As soon as the camera stopped rolling, the hats would come off.
What sense does it make to press charges of culpable homicide when what happened was clearly negligence? Criminal negligence, no doubt, but nonetheless negligence. Unless, of course, we accept the Union Carbide theory that it was sabotage.
Intention is central to culpability. Absent an intent to kill, it makes no sense to put people away for ten years, even if their negligence resulted in 10,000 deaths. The problem lies not with the sentence but the delay in getting to this point. It has made India an international laughing stock.
The other issue relates to the compensation of 470 million dollars. I don't believe it was such a trivial amount as is being made out. The government should've accepted the initial offer of 350 million dollars and used it to build health care centres, and disbursed it quickly to victims. Instead it demanded over 3 billion and finally had to accept the 350 million plus interest. And after it got the 470 million, it kept most of it in a bank account, like it would do any good there.
It's true Exxon paid more for the Exxon Valdez leak. But that was in the United States. It makes no sense to demand we be treated on par with the US in such matters. People earn more in the US, they will naturally be compensated in accordance with their earning power.
We deal with such disparities all the time. When I write for a foreign publication, I get paid significantly more than when I write for an Indian one. Time Out, London would pay me far more for an article than Time Out, Delhi. That's just the way it is. It would be stupid of me to ask for equity in payments here in India. Union Carbide's multinational status didn't oblige it to pay the same to Indians that it would to Americans. If such conditions were laid down, no foreign companies would come to India in the first place.