India Is Blocking Bhopal Settlement, Carbide Chief Says
Union Carbide Chairman Warren M. Anderson on Wednesday called the Indian government the “main stumbling block” to settlement of claims from the 1984 Bhopal gas disaster.
But he indicated that the company still hopes to reach an out-of-court settlement by year-end.
Anderson, who will retire in November as Carbide’s chairman, said the company had tried to involve India in plans to compensate the roughly 200,000 victims of the accident. But he said the government had not cooperated.
Referring to the recent lethal mud slides in Colombia, where he said the local government had managed to get food and medical care to victims within days, he said: “I didn’t understand the difference between a natural disaster and a man-made problem. I had hoped to join forces, and what I got instead was confrontation.”
Anderson’s remarks came at a press conference following Carbide’s annual shareholders meeting here, near its headquarters. During the session he also addressed the company’s multiple tribulations in 1985 and the first portion of this year.
These included a battle to fend off a hostile takeover bid that resulted in Carbide shedding its profitable consumer goods businesses and a record fine of $1.4 billion levied by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for alleged safety violations at its chemical plant in West Virginia.
But it was Bhopal that cast the longest shadow over the corporation. On Dec. 2 and 3, 1984, a gas cloud from a chemical plant 51% owned by a Carbide subsidiary killed more than 1,700 people and injured hundreds of thousands more. Lawsuits aiming to fix blame for the disaster are being heard by a federal judge in New York.
Estimates of Carbide’s potential liability run from $200 million to several billion dollars. In a study published Wednesday, the Citizens Commission on Bhopal, a group affiliated with the Sisters of Charity Roman Catholic order, placed the economic damages to victims at $1.4 billion, based on an average yearly wage in the region of $1,500 and on an estimate of 3,000 dead and 210,000 partially disabled victims.
Anderson dismissed that estimate. “There are probably as many estimates about liability as there are people in this room.”