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India to press U.S. over Bhopal extradition

By Harmeet Shah Singh, CNN
Protesters in India demand the extradition of former Union Carbide boss Warren Anderson.
Protesters in India demand the extradition of former Union Carbide boss Warren Anderson.
  • Government minister says India will renew push to extradite executive
  • Court found executives from company's Indian subsidiary guilty of causing death by negligence
  • Nearly 4,000 people died in the immediate aftermath of the 1984 gas leak
  • Union Carbide paid settlement of $470 million to India in 1989

New Delhi, India (CNN) -- India will make "vigorous" efforts to push the United States to extradite the former head of an American chemical company in connection with the 1984 industrial disaster in Bhopal, India, a government minister said Monday.

A court in central India ruled earlier this month that seven top executives from Union Carbide India Limited were guilty for their role in a gas leak at the Bhopal plant.

The same court has issued an arrest warrant for Warren Anderson, the former chairman of Union Carbide Corp.

But Anderson has been declared an "absconder" -- or a fugitive -- from the indictment, officials say.

"The (Indian) government will make vigorous efforts to get Anderson extradited," federal minister S. Jaipal Reddy said Monday.

Reddy sits on a panel that is recommending that Indian authorities use new evidence in support of the extradition plea: testimonies that the parent company was aware of what investigators believe were defects in its Bhopal plant. The country's federal cabinet will have the final say.

India's federal police first requested that the United States extradite Anderson in 1993.

"However, this request remains unexecuted," India's Central Bureau of Investigation noted in its statement on the day of the Bhopal ruling this month.

Currently, India has extradition pacts with 31 countries, including the United States. In the past eight years, India has been able to get 42 wanted people from abroad to face trial, authorities say.

Nearly 4,000 people died in the immediate aftermath of the escape of methyl isocyanate, a chemical used to produce pesticides, from Union Carbide India Limited's plant in Bhopal in December 1984.

More than 10,000 other deaths have been blamed on related illnesses, with adverse health effects reported in hundreds of thousands of survivors.

Many of them struggle with ailments including shortness of breath, cancer, near-blindness, fatigue and heart problems.

Indian industrialist Keshub Mahindra, then head of Union Carbide India Limited, six colleagues and their company were convicted earlier this month of negligence causing death, endangering public life and causing hurt.

They were granted bail after a judge imposed a two-year prison term and a fine of about $2,000.

Originally, the Indian defendants were charged with culpable homicide. Following an appeal, the country's supreme court downgraded the charges to death by negligence in 1996.

Indian authorities blamed the tragedy on the maintenance and design of the site.

Union Carbide, however, has denied the charges, insisting the leak was an act of sabotage by an employee who it said had tampered with the gas tank.

The company, now a subsidiary of Dow Chemical Co., paid a $470 million settlement to India in 1989.

But the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal said survivors have received an average of only $500 each in compensation.

Union Carbide says neither the parent company nor its officials are subject to the jurisdiction of Indian courts.

Sixteen years after the leak, Union Carbide became part of the Dow Chemical Corporation. Union Carbide claims the issue has been resolved and Dow has no responsibility for the leak.