“Anderson’s death and a page from memory—something I can never erase”

By Lalit Shastri,

The survivors of the 1984 Union Carbide gas disaster–the hapless citizens who have gone through the worst industrial holocaust–will now suffer endless agony as the prime accused former chairman of the US multinational Union Carbide Corporation Warren Anderson has died without facing trial for mass homicide.

Everyone knows that Anderson was provided a smooth passage and flown out of Bhopal in the Madhya Pradesh Government’s State plane hours after he had landed in Bhopal a few days after the poisonous gas leak. For the few hours that Anderson was in Bhopal, he was “technically” detained in the UCC’s posh guest house overlooking the picturesque Upper Lake. The role of then chief minister Arjun Singh, who has now passed away, in providing Anderson the escape route has all along been severely criticised.

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After investigating the causes leading to the disaster, moving from ground zero to the city hospitals from December 3, 1984 onward and travelling all the way to Institute in West Virginia, USA to compare and see firsthand the difference in the level of safety provided in the Bhopal and the US plants, and exclusive research at the level of WHO and ILO in Geneva–a process that stretched for more than a year, my book “Bhopal Disaster-An eyewitness account” was launched by the then president Giani Zail Singh in Rashtrapati Bhawan in 1986. That year, after the book was released, I became a full time journalist in a leading newspaper.

A couple of months down the line, one particular day after delivering the key-note address on the gas disaster at the local Rotary Club when I reached my office, where I was running the show and leading the entire editorial team, I found a crude looking person occupying my seat. I can never forget the scorn and littleness as starkly visible in his expressions as he looked at me. He told me that he has joined as the News Editor and I should take orders from him. In the same breath, he ordered that I should immediately stop writing on the gas disaster. Next he blurted out that the “gas disaster beat” has been given to a fresher–a cub reporter who had just joined.

This development did not come as a surprise since it coincided with a news item that had appeared in my newspaper just a day before. The news had quoted the president of the Indian Federation of Working Journalist Vikram Rao, who at my book release function the previous day had blasted the chief minister and questioned him regarding acts of omission and commission leading to the disaster. It did not require rocket science to put two and two together and I could conclude that the News editor in question was only a pawn in the hands of his patron–the chief minister–who had obviously planted him there to silence me.

Lalit Shastri is a senior journalist based in Bhopal.