The Union Carbide chief was arrested at Bhopal airport when he arrived four days after the 1984 gas leak that killed at least 15,000, but was let off within hours after an unidentified top government leader in Delhi made a call to chief minister Arjun Singh. Rashid Kidwai reports in The Telegraph:
One of the two pilots, Captain D.C. Sondhi, told The Telegraph the police officers repeatedly offered to carry the American’s hand luggage as they escorted him to the plane at Bhopal airport.
“Memories of that scene still make me angry,” said Sondhi, 72. “Here was a man responsible for the death of thousands, and our government officials were saluting him!”
He added: “The buzz among bureaucrats was that US President Ronald Reagan had spoken to someone important in India to get Anderson out quickly.”
The Union Carbide chief was arrested at Bhopal airport when he arrived four days after the 1984 gas leak that killed at least 15,000, but was let off within hours after an unidentified top government leader in Delhi made a call to chief minister Arjun Singh.
During his six-hour stay in Bhopal, Anderson, who wore a mask, appeared casual and showed “signs of arrogance”, said Moti Singh, who was then Bhopal district collector. But the American piped down when he was told he was being released.
“At first he wasn’t even willing to leave Bhopal, he wanted to see the affected area. I told him, ‘You are not welcome, you have to leave Bhopal’. I also told him there was a risk to his life and in no case could he be allowed to go to the affected areas,” Singh said.
Captain Sondhi, then director of aviation in Bhopal, received the call from Arjun Singh’s office at 2.30pm.
“I was asked to get the state government plane, a B-200 Super King, ready. Soon, city superintendent Swaraj Puri arrived with Anderson,” Sondhi said.
“Anderson was carrying a garment box (containing a business suit) and a briefcase. I remember police officers repeatedly requesting him to let them carry these pieces of luggage. Anderson said, ‘No, no, I will carry them myself.’ When the plane was about to take off, the officers saluted him and wished him good luck.”
The other pilot, Captain Syed Hasan Ali, remembers Anderson dozing off mid-flight. “He was calm but in a hurry to reach Delhi,” said Ali, whose father had become ill after the gas leak.
“My relatives lived in the Jahangirabad locality, a short distance from the Carbide factory, so none of them was grievously affected. My father died shortly after, and I am still not sure whether it was because of the gas or just his age.”
“For me, he was like any other passenger. I was doing a job and the thought that he was leaving, never to return, did not occur to me. In any case, what could I have done?”
Ali said that when Anderson got off at Delhi’s Palam airport, he made it a point to thank the crew. “He shook our hands and waved at some officials who appeared to be from the US embassy. Then, suddenly, he was gone.”
Yet, earlier in the morning, the state government had appeared serious about cracking down on Carbide and Anderson.
Collector Singh recalled: “I was summoned by Arjun Singh to his residence at 8am. He told me Anderson would be arriving in Bhopal shortly and that airport officials had been told not to let his plane land till I (Moti Singh) had arrived there.”
By the time Singh reached the airport the plane had landed but its door had not been opened. Inside, Anderson was waiting with Union Carbide India chairman Keshub Mahindra and managing director Vijay Gokhale.
Singh said all three were arrested as soon as they got off the plane and taken to Carbide’s Shyamala Hills guesthouse. The police filed a case of culpable homicide against them.
“But at 2pm, chief secretary Brahm Swaroop called me and superintendent Puri to his office. He told us a plane was waiting for Anderson and asked us to complete the formalities to ensure he could fly to Delhi as soon as possible,” Singh said.
“We quickly arranged for a Carbide employee to secure his bail against a surety of Rs 25,000.”
Singh said he was struck by Anderson’s knowledge about the plant and the sequence of events following the leak. “He told me that when the gas leaked there was no wind, so the gas went up initially; but around midnight, a southerly wind started blowing and spread the gas around.” More Here.