Grounds exist for extraditing Anderson, feels GoM

The group of ministers on the Bhopal gas tragedy has decided to ''vigorously pursue'' the extradition of former Union Carbide chairman Warren Anderson because it feels he still technically faces charges under Section 304-II of the Indian Penal Code, as he was not a party before the Supreme Court in 1996 when the culpability was diluted to the lighter Section 304A (criminal negligence rather than culpable homicide).

The GoM headed by home minister P Chidambaram, while exploring fresh measures to seek Anderson's extradition considered this aspect and noted that he was declared a fugitive much prior to the 13 December 1996 judgement.

Because he jumped the 7 December 1984 bail order, which put a flimsy moral responsibility on him to appear before the trial court as and when required, he was declared an absconder in 1992. But an extradition request was made only in 2003, which was turned down by the US in 2004 saying it did not meet the requirements under Sections 2(1) and 9(3)(c) of the bilateral extradition treaty.

During its search for fresh grounds to seek Anderson's extradition, the GoM found merit in law minister Veerappa Moily's pointer on the basis of a note given by Attorney General G E Vahanvati that the plethora of evidence presented before the trial court clearly suggested that the Union Carbide Corp (UCC) management, including the then chairman, could be slapped with serious criminal culpability for the gas leak.

The evidence of a prosecution witness that the UCC management was in the know of the Bhopal plant's structural defect and its decision to economise on maintenance was a pointer to its criminal negligence in the handling of the highly toxic material.

The prosecution witness had asserted that the maintenance staff had brought to the management's notice that the leaking pipes needed urgent replacement. But, they were told to minimise repair costs by welding the damaged pipes.

This serious lapse, attributable to the management including Anderson, in failing to replace the damaged pipes apparently allowed water to enter the chemical storage chambers leading to leakage of deadly methyl isocyanate gas resulting in the death of over 15,000 people and injuring lakhs.

This could be a ground for a fresh request for extradition coupled with the technicality that Anderson was still liable under Section 304-II of IPC, which provides for a maximum sentence of 10 years' imprisonment.