June 12, 2010

The importance of being Leela Naidu

Leela: A Patchwork Life
Leela Naidu with Jerry Pinto
Penguin Viking
180 pages

Buy Leela A Patchwork Life, Naidu Leela With Pinto Jerry, 0670999113 Having excelled herself as a versatile actor in a few roles in Bollywood movies that she portrayed on the silver screen, Leela Naidu's poise and elegance as a woman has made her the legend that she always was.


Thanks to the mass media, the last hundred years have seen an explosion of female beauty. Every woman you seen on screen is good-looking. Even the ones that are not. Some of them are natural-born beauties. Many are artificially enhanced beauties with doctored noses, filled up lips, and a socialist redistribution of body fat. And there are those who manage to pass themselves off as beautiful through the sheer force of their PR machinery.

That great treasury of information on beautiful women, Wikipedia, lists 58 winners of the Miss India pageant alone. Leela Naidu happens to be one of those 58, having won the title in 1954. Like today’s winners routinely do, she too moved from beauty pageant winning to film acting.

Her first film, Anuradha, released in 1960, when she was 20 years old. Her last, Electric Moon, was in 1992. For the record, when Leela entered the Hindi film industry, her contemporaries were Nargis, Madhubala, Meena Kumari and Waheeda Rehman. All four of them enjoyed full-fledged careers. They acted in enough films (at least 50 each) to be able to capture the popular imagination and stay there. Leela, despite every advantage of birth, beauty, talent and connections, did just eight films in a career spanning 32 years. It is widely believed that she did not ‘fulfil her potential’. But is that a fair comment to make?

As per TIME , she is the world’s most beautiful woman.. She was the first Miss World from India in 1955. She played a young bride role, opposite to Shashi Kapoor in the movie The Householder


As per TIME , she is the world’s most beautiful woman.. She was the first Miss World from India in 1955. She played a young bride role, opposite to Shashi Kapoor in the movie The Householder


Leela: A Patchwork Life offers a partial answer to this question. This is not an autobiography. It is a collection of anecdotes, narrated by Leela, which illuminates aspects of her life and personality. As she writes, “…this book is about what matters to a certain Leela Naidu.”

Leela, undoubtedly, had a great start. Her father was a nuclear physicist who served as scientific adviser to UNESCO. Her mother was a French Indologist. She grew up in Europe, went to an elite school in Switzerland, and in her teens, took acting lessons from the great Jean Renoir.

In the prime of her beauty and youth, when she had just made a splash in Hindi cinema, she was chosen by Vogue magazine as one of the five most beautiful women in the world. David Lean wanted to cast her as Tonya in Dr Zhivago. Salvador Dali used her as a model for the Madonna. Satyajit Ray wanted to make a film with her and Marlon Brando. And a smitten Raj Kapoor wanted to sign her up for four films. “Raj Kapoor told me that he wanted me to do four films with him. I was supposed to sign a contract and I would be the next RK discovery.” And here’s the thing: she turned him down.

Her career in commercial Hindi cinema ended barely a couple of years after it had begun. Baaghi (1964) was her last appearance in a mainstream film. Later in life, she made documentary films, worked as editor of Society magazine, translated the French playwright Eugene Ionesco, dubbed Hong Kong action movies, and accompanied husband Dom Moraes on his travels, working as an unpaid secretary. In between, she also made a “potty film” for JRD Tata — on how to use the loo on a plane.

Evidently, if Leela Naidu was beautiful, that was not all she was. The mystique of her beauty probably has less to do with her DNA than with the kind of person she was. And the kind of person she was has everything to do with the values that, in retrospect, one can deduce from her life choices. Especially her decision to give Bollywood the go by.

In a chapter titled, ‘Have you stopped acting?’ Naidu recounts the famous exchange in Sunset Boulevard, “where William Holden as Joe Gillis says, ‘You’re Norma Desmond. You used to be in silent pictures. You used to be big.’ Swanson, as Norma Desmond retorts, without missing a beat, ‘I am big. It’s the pictures that got small.’” Mainstream Hindi cinema simply did not have the kind of roles that could accommodate Leela’s talent without doing violence to her sensibility. When she died last year, an obituary referred to her as the “Aishwarya Rai of her time.” But unlike the Aishwarya Rai of our time, Leela’s stubborn refusal to yoke her beauty to the gilded chariot of ambition meant that she would not pander to popular fantasy. It ensured that she would never scale the heights of a Madhubala or a Waheeda Rehman. But it also set her free, and allowed her to remain true to the values she held dear — an essential quality without which beauty is but an empty shell.

“Everyone, it seemed, had a Leela Naidu story,” writes Jerry Pinto in his Foreword. Here is a story that sort of explains why she would not have lasted in Bollywood even if she’d sincerely tried.
“On the sets of Anuradha, a spot boy fell from the gangplank high above us and fractured both his legs,” Naidu writes. “The crew seemed willing to continue as if nothing much had happened. I was appalled at this and went on strike. I refused to shoot until the poor man was taken to the hospital. They bundled him off the sets but I wanted to see the case paper and I wanted an assurance from the producer that he would pay the medical bills before I would start again.”

Again, on the sets of Anuradha, which was her first film, by the way, when she found that only she had been assigned a chair to sit and the extras had nowhere to sit, she refused to sit on her chair. Somehow one finds it hard to think of any contemporary Miss India-turned-Bollywood star going on strike and taking on her producer to fight for the rights of a spot boy or an ‘extra’.
One of the most moving passages in the book is the one about her efforts to make a documentary on the sub-human working conditions in Asansol coal mines. In another chapter, she talks about her struggle to find resettlement land for a group of Dalit farmers after their land was illegally usurped by the upper caste land mafia.

Beauty brings with it a lot of power. It is cultural capital that can be invested for financial gain, for influence, and to acquire further cultural capital through, say, a career in the movies. Not surprisingly, therefore, being beautiful often brings with it a sense of entitlement that makes you believe that you are special, or at any rate on a plane higher than lesser mortals, such as the unbeautiful, the spot boys, and the ‘extras’.

Leela Naidu did not do even half as many films as any of the assembly line beauties of today. And whatever she may have lost in unattained glory, by not bowing to the imperatives of pragmatism, she retained something more precious — her individuality. And it is this that lends her beauty a quality of grace and humanity that can never be acquired through hours spent in the gym or in front of the mirror. It is an ideal of beauty that encompasses simple things such as standing up for what you believe in. In an entertainment industry that believes in very little apart from the virtues of money-making, that is perhaps too much to ask. But then, whoever said it is easy being a Leela Naidu.



The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) as a terrorist-cum-insurgent organisation is dead. So is most of its leadership at the senior levels, including Prabakaran, its head. One cannot say with equal confidence that all its trained cadres----whether in insurgency or terrorism or both----have been fully accounted for----either killed or captured. Its dead leaders have not left detailed documentation of their set-up giving details of the number trained, the number of losses, the number still alive towards the end of their fight with the Sri Lankan Army, their deployment, their capabilities, weapons-holdings etc. As a result, it is difficult to assess with some accuracy the risks of a revival of the Tamil militancy in some form or the other in Sri Lanka as well as in Tamil Nadu.

2. One can assess with some confidence that there is little likelihood of the revival of a Tamil insurgent movement. The losses in trained personnel and capabilities suffered by the LTTE at the hands of the Sri Lankan Army will rule that out. The enhancement of the deployment of the Army in the Tamil areas----already under way---- will ensure that Tamil insurgency cannot stage a come-back in Sri Lanka like the Taliban did in Afghanistan.

3. However, one cannot rule out the dangers of a revival of a terrorist movement by the unaccounted for remnants of the LTTE in Sri Lanka as well as in Tamil Nadu. The LTTE had trained an unquantified number of its cadres----men and women--- in different kinds of terrorist operations, including suicide terrorism. One does not know how many were trained, how many were killed or captured by the Sri Lankan Army and how many have managed to evade capture and are biding their time in Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu. They have a high level of expertise in the use of terrorism as a modus operandi as well as in the fabrication of explosive material by using substances easily available in Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu.

4. So long as these remnants with the required expertise are available, a determined and motivated Tamil leader can rally them round and create sleeper cells for a new Tamil militant movement. A new generation of Tamil militant leadership is not yet on the horizon a year after the decimation of the LTTE. However, there is still anger in pockets of the Tamil communities in Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu over the manner in which the Sri Lankan Army carried out its counter-insurgency operations and over what is seen as foot-dragging by President Mahinda Rajapaksa in carrying out his assurances for a fair political settlement made to the Tamils before the LTTE was crushed. Now that the LTTE has been crushed, he is no longer showing a sense of urgency and fairplay in addressing the problems and grievances of the Tamils.

5. The fact that this anger is present not only in the Tamil community of Sri Lanka, but also of Tamil Nadu became evident recently from the protests in Tamil Nadu over an Indian film festival held in Sri Lanka, which was boycotted by Tamil actors, the protest demonstrations during the recent visit of Mr.Rajapaksa to New Delhi and the unsuccessful attempt by some unidentified persons believed to be sympathisers of Prabakaran to cause a derailment with locally-procured explosives in Tamil Nadu in the early hours of June 12. The Kumbakonam-Chennai Rockfort Express escaped what could have been a tragedy when two alert drivers---one of a train which preceded the Rockfort Express and the other of the Express---- noticed a possible terrorist attempt to cause a derailment. According to media reports, pamphlets purported to have been drafted by supporters of the late Prabakaran claiming responsibility for the attempt were found on the spot. Only a police investigation can establish whether the attempt was made by supporters of Prabakaran as claimed in the pamphlets or by Maoists as a mark of solidarity with the LTTE. In the past, when Prabakaran was alive, there were unconfirmed reports of contacts between the LTTE and the Maoists.

6. Anger is often the mother of militancy and terrorism. The LTTE is dead. Most of its senior leadership is no more. But anger in sections of the Tamil community is still there. Motivated individuals, who are prepared to give vent to their anger by using terrorism, are available. Only leadership to rally them round is not there. The post 9/11 history of terrorism shows that the absence of a leadership capable of uniting the terrorists and orchestrating their activities does not mean the end of terrorism. Autonomously operating individuals itching to give vent to their anger have been behind many recent acts of terrorism. Terrorism analysts have been speaking of an emerging phenomenon of leadersless terrorism due to acts of angry individuals.

7. Till the cause of the anger of the Sri Lankan Tamils is satisfactorily addressed, the danger of a revival of terrorism in sections of the Tamil community will remain present. ( 13-6-10)

( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presetly, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail:
seventyone2@gmail.com )

India has learnt nothing from the Bhopal tragedy

June 11, 2010 17:04 IST

With the June 7 Bhopal judgment, India [ Images ] has been reduced to a Fourth World country. This story of shame can only end if the government appeals against the judgment, gets proper criminal liability restored and seriously pursues the case against all the accused, notes Praful Bidwai.


The victims of the world's worst chemical disaster abandoned hope of securing real justice a long time ago. As someone who covered the gas leak at Union Carbide Corporation's pesticides plant in Bhopal from an early stage and has probably written more on the issue than any other journalist, I would put the date at February 1989, when the Indian government reached an atrociously inadequate out-of-court settlement with Carbide for $470 million (about Rs 710 crore at the exchange rates prevailing in 1989), totalling no more than UCC's insurance cover plus interest.

The Supreme Court put its imprimatur on the deal and extinguished Carbide's liability, civil and criminal, thus shattering the victims' hopes of getting enough compensation to pay even for their medical treatment, leave alone damages for prolonged suffering.

So scandalously paltry and pro-corporate was the settlement that Attorney General Soli Sorabjee, no flaming radical, moved the Supreme Court to restore the criminal liability of UCC, its fully owned Hong Kong-based subsidiary Union Carbide Eastern, and United Carbide India Ltd and its directors. The Court did so in 1991.

For the victims, this was a minor victory. They hoped that after denying them fair compensation, society would at least redeem itself by recognising the magnitude of their suffering and delivering exemplary punishment to those responsible for the disaster.

That was not to be. In 1996, the Supreme Court diluted the charges against the accused from culpable homicide to causing death by negligence, punishable with just two years' imprisonment. Eight accused have now been sentenced by a Bhopal magistrate for two years. A ridiculous fine of Rs 1 lakh (Rs 100,000) was levied on seven accused and an even more laughable Rs 5 lakh on UCIL. They have been let off on bail of Rs 25,000.

It is a safe bet that most of them won't serve any jail term at all as the case moves to the higher courts. Worse, three of the accused, former UCC chairman Warren Anderson, UCC and Union Carbide Eastern, weren't even brought to trial.

The verdict has treated a grave disaster, which claimed 15,000-plus lives and injured over 200,000, as a mere traffic accident. There couldn't be a meaner way to insult the catastrophe's victims and trivialise their pain and disorders, including damage to lungs, liver, kidneys and the immune system.

Even today, Bhopal continues to be haunted by toxicity. Hundreds of tonnes of poisonous waste lie in the Carbide factory, which has contaminated drinking water for 30,000 people. Yet, neither UCC nor UCIL accepts an obligation to clean up the site. Nor does Dow Chemicals, a multinational with a foul record, which bought out UCC. The government is laying out the red carpet for Dow -- at the expense of the Bhopal victims.

As if all this didn't rub enough salt into their wounds, former Chief Justice of India A H Ahmadi has tried to justify his 1996 order diluting criminal charges. He pleads there is no 'vicarious liability' in such cases: 'If my driver is driving and meets with a fatal accident, I don't become liable to be prosecuted' for causing death by negligence.

This argument is specious. There is no similarity between an individual driver's fault and the culpability of a corporation and its directors for the unsafe design, operation and maintenance of a hazardous plant. This culpability stands enlarged in Bhopal because the plant's owners and operators knew it was accident-prone. Indeed, it had witnessed a series of fatal accidents involving phosgene, a war gas, and methyl isocyanate.

A safety audit had found 30 faults in its operation. The truth is, the plant was grossly under-designed for safety.

In such cases, the principle of corporate liability demands that owners are made to take full responsibility for all mishaps. This principle is rightly being applied to BP for the oil spill off the Louisiana coast in the US. President Barack Obama [ Images ] says he wants to 'kick ass' and 'make sure that they (BP) pay every single dime owed to the people along the Gulf Coast'.

The liability principle should apply with even greater force to the much greater disaster in Bhopal. Violating the principle can only encourage corporations to behave irresponsibly, cut corners on safety, cheat on regulations and expose the public to avoidable harm. No civilised society can allow that.

Justice Ahmadi is not the only person in high office to have worked in favour of Carbide. The Rajiv Gandhi [ Images ] government in December 1984 released Warren Anderson who had been arrested in Bhopal and flew him in a state plane to Delhi [ Images ]. Anderson absconded thereafter. Now, former CBI Joint Director R B Lall has disclosed that the ministry of external affairs ordered the Bureau in 1994 not to pursue extradition against Anderson, a legally declared absconder.

The government failed to serve an arrest warrant on Anderson on the ludicrous plea that he was 'untraceable' -- when his address in a posh New York community was widely known and was communicated to the Indian government.

The larger picture that emerges is one of India's high functionaries vying with one another to let Carbide off the hook, and every single institution failing the victims. Consider this:

  • The government appropriated the victims' right to legal defence under the doctrine of 'the state as parent' but failed to focus sharply on gathering clinching evidence to show that UCC was responsible for the design and day-to-day operation of the Bhopal plant and the accident was caused by basic deficiencies in its safety system design. The design wouldn't have passed muster in any country with a half-way responsible licensing authority.
  • The Supreme Court comprehensively failed to engage with the issue of Carbide's liability after the original suit was sent back from the US on the ground of forum non conveniens. All it was interested in was an out-of-court settlement, to which it drove an all-too-willing government.
  • The Indian Council of Medical Research set up countless research projects on the toxicity of methyl isocyanate and its products and the injuries they cause. But it failed to produce a simple treatment protocol which would tell a general medical practitioner what medicines to administer for lung injuries, eye damage, nervous system disorders or poisoning of the kidneys or liver, and what physiotherapy would help the victims. It wound up its projects in 1994 -- without producing useful results.
  • The Council of Scientific and Industrial Research failed to inform the public of the long-lasting toxic effects of MIC on human health and the environment and to produce a grading of severity of injuries correlated to exposure based on distance, wind direction and so on. So, while deciding on compensation, people living far away from the plant and relatively unaffected by gas exposure were equated with the grievously injured living close by.
  • The government demanded over $3 billion in compensation from Carbide, but without explanation, suddenly agreed to $470 million. We will never know what the full trade-off was. But high appointments were made abroad and at home to repay favours delivered in reaching the collusive settlement.

Bhopal has witnessed not one, but many tragedies: The gas leak disaster in 1984, the settlement in 1989, and monumental corruption in the distribution of compensation in the mid-1990s. Most victims got as little as Rs 12,000 for a lifetime of suffering. Much of it went into repaying debts or bribing corrupt officials. The judgment is the latest tragedy.

The government has learnt nothing from the disaster. India's environmental and occupational safety regulations haven't been tightened. In fact, the environmental impact assessment process has been undermined through an unconscionable relaxation of requirements to document hazards, rigorously scrutinise proposals and strictly monitor compliance.

India's legal system remains abysmally weak and ineffective in punishing negligence and bringing corporations to book. There is no law of torts (civil wrongs) worth the name in India. It was promised in 1984. It is again promised today. Powerful interests have been complicit in denying and subverting justice for the Bhopal victims. Indeed, the entire system has conspired against them.

Particularly appalling is the record of India's big business. No industry association or chamber of commerce has had the integrity or courage to comment on the appalling new judgment. This forfeits Indian industry's claim to be an enlightened part of the community. It has proved utterly retrograde.

Worse, industry has colluded with Dow. Dow has found an enthusiastic ally in industrialist Ratan Tata [ Images ]. Tata has offered 'to lead and find funding' for the 'remediation' (cleansing) of the Bhopal plant site so that Dow can invest in India.

Dow is lobbying the government and has retained Congress party spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi as its lawyer, besides enlisting powerful functionaries like Montek Singh Ahluwalia [ Images ], P Chidambaram [ Images ] and Kamal Nath. Yet, the last two are part of the just-established Group of Ministers on Bhopal. They must be dropped forthwith.

With this judgment, 'Emerging Superpower' India has been reduced to a Fourth World country. This story of shame can only end if the government appeals against the judgment, gets proper criminal liability restored by the Supreme Court, seriously pursues the case against all the accused, and brings a modicum of justice to the victims.

Praful Bidwai

[INDIA-US-DIALOGUE] How Anderson Was Allowed To Get Away by Sundeep Dougal

Much anguish has been expressed about Digvijay Singh's remarks about American pressure in the release of Warren Anderson, as if he was revealing some state-secret. Bharat Desai in the TOI sums it up well: "Today, 25 years later, the entire media is unravelling the 'mystery' behind the release of the Union Carbide chairman Warren Anderson five days after the disaster, as if it this is some piece of breaking news..."

And what he goes on to say will not come as breaking news to anyone who followed the happenings in those days when the media may not have been all that pervasive, but the American pressure was an open secret:

Chief minister Arjun Singh had apparently not consulted the caretaker Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi before ordering the arrest of Anderson on December 7. After the arrest, Rajiv Gandhi's powerful aide and cousin, Arun Nehru, telephoned Arjun Singh and told him that US President Ronald Regan had called up the Indian PM and 'requested' him to release Anderson immediately. Now, Rajiv Gandhi was an Indian Airlines pilot, accustomed to taking only orders from air traffic control. The job of prime minister was thrust upon him because of his mother's assassination just one month before the gas disaster. He couldn't have resisted the top man in the White House.

Pranab Dhal Samanta in the Indian Express corroborates the Delhi and US angle, but provides the following version of the sequence of events:

“Although Mr Arjun Singh had given directions to the Chief Secretary, he was acting under the directions of Rajiv Gandhi who, in turn, was under pressure from the highest levels in the US government,” Jain told The Indian Express. ...

Around 1 pm, Arjun Singh again called up the Chief Secretary for an update. And here again, according to what Swaroop shared with his colleagues soon after the conversation, the CM was insistent and said he had to give a “compliance report to Rajiv Gandhi”. Later, Swaroop informed the core group members that Singh had even told him to arrange for a state government plane to transport him to Delhi upon release.

At that stage, the SP took the DM away and both discussed the matter. They returned and informed the group that they had found a way to carry out Singh’s orders. Thereafter, the orders were carried out. Additional Secretary M S Singh Deo, who was considered close to Arjun Singh, is said to have met the CM the next day after he returned from the rally. It was he who then disclosed to his colleagues that Rajiv Gandhi had told Singh after US President Ronald Reagan had personally intervened in the matter.

Moti Singh, on his part, still maintains that he was not aware on whose instructions the Chief Secretary gave the orders. “Around 2 pm, I got a call from Chief Secretary Brahma Swaroop asking us to reach his office where we were told to release Anderson. I am not sure whose orders the Chief Secretary was following.”

All of which of course squares with what the press reported at that time as well. As theExpress story points out, despite pressure from the CM, the state government officials argued that it "was not possible" [to release Anderson] "after the police had pressed charges against Anderson".

"At that stage, the SP took the DM away and both discussed the matter. They returned and informed the group that they had found a way to carry out Singh’s orders"

What was the way? For a ready-reckoner, one may not need to go beyond Google, and at least one diligent data-miner has already done the homework and documented it on, yes, where else but Twitter. Following some of the links provided by off-stumped, using a basic Google news archive search, the spin that the Congress came up with then is there for all to see, nicely recorded in the US newspapers of the period available on line. The official US version is also instructive:

The Pittsburgh Press, Dec 7, 1984:

The US Embassy in New Delhi said Anderson's release on $2000 bail was secured after delicate negotiations between the US and Indian governments. He had been held at Union Carbide's luxurious guest house.

"The Indian government was very helpful," said WIlliam Miller, spokesman for the US Embassy in New Delhi....

A company statement issued at its headquarters in Danbury, Conn., said the arrest violated an Indian government promise to provide Anderson with safe passage.

"Warren Anderson went to India fully expecting to be of assistance and was provided safe passage assurances from the Indian government, " the statement said

Pittsburgh Post Gazette, Dec 8, 1984: India ousting US Chemical firm official:

Police said Warren B. Anderson faced preliminary charges that included death by negligence, criminal conspiracy, causing air pollution and killing livestock.

Anderson would be asked to leave India as soon as possible "because his presence might provoke strong passions against him and because we do not consider his presence in India desirable," said spokesman for the Madhya Pradesh state government

In Washington, White House spokesman Larry Speakes said the United States made "some representations" to Indian officials through the embassy in New Delhi. He said he did not know whether they led to Anderson's release.

The chief minister of Madhya Pradesh, Arjun Singh, said in a statement, "We are convinced on the basis of facts already available that each one of them has criminal liability for the events that led to the grave tragedy."

Anchorage Daily News, Dec 9, 1984:

Anderson would be asked to leave India as soon as possible "because his presence might provoke strong passions against him and because we do not consider his presence in the country desirable," said Sudip Banerjee, a spokesman for the Madhya Pradesh state government

The Freelance Star, Dec 10, 1984:

Anderson, arrested on charges of negligence, homicide and criminal conspiracy, was ordered released unconditionally by the state government because ofconcern that the case might undermine US-Indian relations, according to press reports Sunday. The Regan administration protested Anderson's detentio

Even the declassified CIA documents, available online make it clear what has long been known, viz. that the release was authorised by the central government.

Document # 0000706, in what the US declassified papers describe as the EAST ASIA BRIEF OCPAS EAB 84-281 FOR DECEMBER 1984, dated 8 December 1984, a day after Anderson fleed India and five days after the gas leaked from Union Carbide’s Bhopal plant, speaks for itself:

If that was then, now is no better: the documents we put up on the site yesterday, showing the stance taken by various Congress party bigwigs, including two prominent ministers and the party spokesperson, arguing that Dow has no responsibility for Bhopal, of course tell their own tale.

Criminal collusion

The Pioneer Edit Desk

Who helped Anderson flee?


La affaire Warren Anderson, who was the chairman of Union Carbide Corp, the American parent company of Union Carbide India Ltd when deadly methyl isocyanate gas leaked from its pesticides factory in Bhopal killing at least 15,000 people — many of them died during the intervening night of December 2-3, 1984; others died a painful, slow death over a period of time — gets murkier with each passing day. Anderson arrived in Bhopal four days after what turned out to be the world’s worst industrial disaster, apparently to see for himself the extent of death and destruction caused by the leak which had resulted from Union Carbide’s criminal indifference to safety measures at its hazardous unit in order to save money and increase profits. The police arrested him, and rightly so, but that action proved to be inconsequential. Anderson, instead of being carted off to jail, was taken to Union Carbide’s well-appointed rest house so that he would not suffer any discomfort. A couple of hours later, the Chief Secretary of Madhya Pradesh summoned the Collector and Superintendent of Police of Bhopal and instructed them to release Anderson on bail, accompany him to the airport, and put him on a plane that would be waiting for him. Anderson was granted bail, escorted to the airport, and put on the plane waiting for him. It turned out to be the State Government’s aircraft. The man who was to be later declared an absconder by the courts was flown to Delhi from where to he took a flight to America, fleeing India forever. This is the brief story of a wanted man’s flight from justice and how he escaped the punishment he richly deserved. These details have tumbled out of the closet this past week, with officials spilling the beans after last Monday’s judgement.

What is intriguing is that the then Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, Mr Arjun Singh, should have gone to such extraordinary lengths to protect Anderson from the law of the land. The Chief Secretary was merely carrying out instructions given to him by Mr Singh; he couldn’t have acted independently. The evidence implicating Mr Singh is far too overwhelming to give him the benefit of doubt. But did Mr Singh act on his own? Did he decide to facilitate Anderson’s escape without consulting anybody? Or was he acting according to orders received from the Union Government, which was then headed by Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi? Given the scale of the disaster and the implications of letting one of the prime accused flee the country in so brazen a manner, it is unthinkable that Mr Singh acted on his own.
It is equally implausible that if there was any American pressure to let Anderson go free — Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh says the Government acted under US pressure — it would have been applied on the State Government directly: The Americans would have contacted the relevant people in the Union Government. Are we then to assume that it was the Centre’s, and not the Madhya Pradesh Government’s, decision to free Anderson and help him jump bail? These are some questions that need to be answered by the UPA Government and the Congress immediately as the nation has the right to know the truth and not be subjected to such grotesque mockery of the law. A full closure will elude the Bhopal tragedy unless the truth is placed on record and those who colluded with Union Carbide are brought to book.

Bhopal Tragedy: Corporate Liability for Mass Disaster

Guest Column by Kandaswami Subramanian

(The views expressed by the author are his own)


Ever since the long awaited judgment in the Bhopal chemical disaster case was delivered on June 8, there was not a single newspaper, national or international, which had not reported the case without anger or disgust.

It happened on that fateful night of 2 December 1984 and more than a quarter century had to pass before a court in India could convict persons found responsible for the crime. All of them are Indian managers of the plant at the time of its blow up. Sadly, the punishment is so light and disproportionate to the magnitude of the crime, it is difficult for an average person to decide whether to cry or laugh. Not that he is not aware of the long and tortuous route which the case had to traverse over the years through the dark alleys and potholes of the judicial system and how, due to the lackadaisical manner in which the governments (Centre and State) and the prosecuting agencies handled the litigation, it got morphed, weakened and began to resemble a mere traffic offence! It was truly anti-climax or a non-event considering the long years taken to finalise it.

Words cannot capture the magnitude of the disaster that struck Bhopal on that the night. One author described it as “the Hiroshima of chemical industry.” A report of an International Medical Commission released in December 1986 said it was “a tragic model of an industrially induced epidemic.”

Government figures estimated the immediate toll at 3500 within three days of the leak, but independent data suggest more deaths. The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) said that up to 1994, 25000 people also died from the consequences of gas exposure. ICMR’s report was not published by the GOI for some years. Social activists and NGOs say that many continue to suffer. TV screens continue to portray pathetic sights of afflicted children and paralysed adults. The area around the Bhopal Plant continues to resemble a discarded graveyard.

The Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) reported on June 7, 2010 (http://www.cseIndia.org – Bhopal: toxic legacy) that for over 25 years the impoverished residents of Bhopal have been silently suffering the consequences of contamination caused by a ruthless, money making multi national pesticide company. “CSE’s investigation revealed the extent of contamination in the vicinity of location of the world’s largest industrial site was unparalleled. Everything from heavy metals to pesticides were detected in soil and ground water samples at the time in very high concentration.”

The Bhopal tragedy had stirred the global conscience in a manner for which there is no parallel. Hours later it struck, hundreds of ‘ambulance chasers’ from the U.S. descended on Delhi and Bhopal. In keeping with the U.S. legal tradition, they were keen to litigate and settle compensation for the victims and, in that process, fork out their whopping share as fees. Unfortunately, they had to leave soon in despair. Along side, there were global conferences and seminars on corporate responsibility for mass industrial disasters. Some of them were financed by Union Carbide indirectly! Once litigation had commenced, initially in the U.S. courts, these academics made a retreat. In later years, the initiative for issues relating to pollution, environmental damage, etc would be taken up by civil activists and this was in the coming decade when environmental issues moved to the centre stage.

In the early years after the tragedy, there would be long processions and demonstrations in many parts of the world and, with the passage of time, even this interest had waned. There are still hard core activists both in Bhopal and abroad who pursue the public cause with dedication and determination. Gradually, even they would wither away. The death masks the processionists wear may flutter on poles for some more time. In a world ruled by and for multinational corporations, justice may the native of rocks.

To commemorate its 25th Anniversary on 3rd December 2009, Los Angeles Times wrote, “Anguish lingers in Bhopal, 25 years after chemical disaster.” It reported the anger of the Bhopal residents with their own government, which settled with the rich foreigners for what they say was a ridiculously low sum and has failed to care for its people. “We drink poison every day, even as our government keeps promising us clean water,” said one victim. Prime Minister Man Mohan Singh issued a statement that day describing Bhopal as a tragedy that “still gnaws at our collective conscience” and he vowed continued efforts to tackle the issues of drinking water and site decontamination. CSE did not find evidence in its latest report referred to earlier!

Initially, the government of India decided to agitate the matter in U.S. courts and it gave rise to issues relating to ‘jurisdiction’, that is whether it should be heard in the US or Indian courts. Issues relating to ‘forum of convenience’ were argued before Justice Keenan. Ultimately, the case was remitted back to India. It may be shocking to recall the arguments advanced by some of our own senior advocates explaining to U.S. judges how Indian courts were unsuited for the purpose! Indian Law Institute has covered the case in a valuable compilation. (Inconvenient Forum and Convenient Catastrophe: The Bhopal Case, N.M. Tripathy Pvt. Ltd., 1986.)

In a way, it was early and the world was still grappling with the new era of multinational growth and issues governing corporate liability and accountability for mass disasters. Corporate responsibility for environment protection and pollution avoidance was also in emerging modes. Against this background, issues governing ‘jurisdiction’ had become alibis for evading responsibility, especially in the absence of a globally binding code of conduct for multinationals.

The International Bar Association (IBA) dealt with these legal issues in a learned article by Adrienne Margolis. (http://www.ibanet.org/Article/Details.aspex?ArtilcleUid=6c239cc2-bcc8-479f-a5bb-o52073c0) As the author explains, “The problems often arise because multinational corporations operate seamlessly across national boundaries, without sufficiently strong regulations to ensure that they respect human rights. There are many examples of the same multinational operating sensitively in one country while violating human rights in another.” When it comes to litigation, companies tend to use their financial power to over-litigate which is why cases can take a very long time. Finally, “When victims seek redress, they often fail to get anywhere in local courts, but discover that the head office abroad is a separate entity. This problem – the ‘corporate veil’ – means strong evidence is needed to hold a parent company liable.”

In short, there are too many grey areas and all the issues have not been resolved. However, pressure for spread of multinational corporations is stepped up by advanced countries, especially the U.S. and with suggestions that strong regulatory measures would disincentivise foreign investment.

The case of Union Carbide is one such and reveals the blind corner in which the Indian government found itself. Truly, as L.A. Times explained, “Over the years, “Bhopal” has become shorthand for corporate irresponsibility, fuelling debates over multinational morality, the environment and codes of conduct.” These are the issues which we wish to analyse in this piece, particularly with reference to the relationship between Union Carbide of U.S.A. and Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL). A side show is Dow Chemical Company which acquired Union Carbide, USA, in February 2001.

Within hours after the delivery of the judgment, Dow Chemical issues a statement that it had sold its entire stake in UCIL in 1994 and the company was renamed Eveready Industries. “All the appropriate people from UCIL have appeared to face charges. Union Car5bide and its officials were not part of this case since the charges were decided long ago into a separate case.” It goes on, “Furthermore, Union Carbide and its officials are not subject to the jurisdiction of the Indian court as they did not have any involvement in the operation of the plant which was owned and operated by UCIL.”

There is nothing new in the latest disclaimer from the U.S. Company. It has been its standard refrain dating back to the first day of the tragedy. In its earliest press release by Union Carbide (www.unioncarbide.com/bhopal) it made this claim: “The Bhopal plant was owned and operated by Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL), an Indian company. The other stockholders included Indian financial institutions and thousands of private investors in India. The plant was designed, built and managed by UCIL, using Indian consultants and workers.” The company would also elaborate how UCIL was sold to another Indian company and “as a result of their sale of shares in UCIL, Union Carbide retained no interest in … or liability for .. the Bhopal site.” Dow Chemical would also chip in and maintain, “While Dow has no responsibility for Bhopal, we have never forgotten the tragic event and have helped to drive global industry performance improvements.” Never was such an insult added to any injury!

The plea all along has been that UCIL was an autonomous entity that had freedom of operation and that Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) had no responsibility over it, and thus not accountable or liable for any misdemeanour of subsidiaries. This is indeed the fig leaf which all multinationals wear when they meet with legal problems in host countries.

It is the essence of multinational corporation operations that there should be central control and direction. It is claimed that this is necessary to protect the proprietary nature of high value technology which they develop. The degree of control may vary in individual cases. In the case of UCC, the manner and extent of control over subsidiaries was detailed in 1300 pages of UCC’s Corporate Policy Manual. As Amnesty International commented, UCC’s “attempt to absolve itself of any responsibility for running UCIL is at odds with its Corporate Charter.”

In the affidavits filed by the GOI before the US District Court, New York, these arguments were challenged with adequate documentation. These documents are included in the Indian Law Institute’s publication earlier referred to. In its affidavits, the GOI drew attention to UCC”s Corporate Policy Manual, which explicitly said, “Except for certain situations, it is the General Policy of the Corporation to secure and maintain effective management control of an affiliate. Normally this is accomplished through ownership of 100 per cent affiliate equity where this is consistent with laws, policies and customs of the host country.”

Unfortunately for UCC, it had to wage a long battle with the Government of India to retain UCIL as its subsidiary, i.e. with 51 per cent equity holding. This became a statutory obligation with the framing of the new Foreign Exchange Regulation Act (FERA) in 1973. The new FERA contained stringent restrictions over foreign ownership of Indian companies and sought to regulate the non-resident holding with reference to the technology contributed by the parent company. Companies with higher levels of technology were allowed even up to 74 per cent equity and those at the lower ends were required to reduce their holding to 40 per cent. Some engage in very low priority areas were advised to wind up their operations. We get back to the FERA battle in a later part of this piece.

Added to the FERA ghost, were its own internal (in house!) struggles among various departments over finance, technology, scale, marketing, exports, etc.

Though UCIL had obtained the approval of the government to establish the methyl isocynate (MIC) based project in 1972 for the manufacture of SEVIN, it was apparent that UCIL and its parent had to face several problems connected with its establishment in India. SEVIN was considered to be a pesticide of great value and one involving high technology and required to boost the green revolution. UCIL was under constant pressure from Indian officials to speed up the setting of the project.

UCIL needed assurances from UCC over the project design, safety, etc. It entered into separate technical services agreement with the parent company. There were doubts about the capacity planned and also the designs to keep huge quantities of MIC in storage. In their book (It was five past midnight in Bhopal, Dominique Pierre & Javier Moro, Full Circle, 2001) the authors refer to the advice of German engineers at Bayer with the caution “never risk keeping a single litre for more than ten minutes” and to UCC/UCIL planning for storage of several hundred litres!

By the winter of 1978, when the project was half way through, there were worries about overruns and potential demand for pesticides in India, particularly for SEVIN. The feasibility of scaling down the plant was discussed in a meeting in New York. As the project had already reached an advanced stage, it was decided to go ahead with it.

There were inter-department conflicts. The Ag Product Division was keen to continue with its exports to India as it had over capacity built in the U.S. plant. Both were over sized plants with under sized markets. Thus, export to India was ruled out and, in any case, it would eat into the global profits of UCC.

A Bhopal Task Force was formed to deal with the problems. It had earlier refused permission to export to India. Other options such as making different carbaryl items were not found commercially attractive.

The Sevin project could not be scrapped for more strategic reasons. It became vital for survival in the FERA battle. UCIL had a non-resident equity of 60 per cent and under the FERA Guidelines initially laid down, it became eligible to retain 40 per cent non-resident equity. A provisional order was issued by the Reserve Bank of India on the decision of the FERA Advisory Committee. Such a holding would be contrary to its Corporate Policy and Manual! UCC mounted its pressures on the Indian government as also in Washington.

It was known that UCC has its clout with the U.S. government as a generous campaign donor. In its Report, Amnesty referred to these efforts and said, “The Finance Plan, referring to negotiations with the government of India on the extent of equity, clearly reveals that UCC never intended to reduce its equity holding to less than what would give it controlling stake in UCIL”

Ultimately, the Government of India succumbed to the pressures of companies such as UCIL and relaxed its guidelines – it was named “amplified guidelines!”

Under the relaxed guidelines, UCIL was able to maintain its subsidiary status with UCC. SEVIN saved the day for the company as it was considered high technology status.

The approval was given by the RBI on July 5, 1980. It was truly a long battle and worthy of celebration. Unfortunately for UCIL and UCC, it came late. In the intervening years, the company had lost the market for pesticides, Sevin in particular.

Demand for Sevin did not pick up and stocks began to accumulate in Bhopal. UCC had neither studied the Indian market nor the psychology of the Indian farmer. Sevin may be efficacious in large U.S. farms, but not in small patches of land in India. Insects fleeing from farms treated with Sevin ravaged neighbouring untreated farms. The Indian farmer was unwilling to switch over to a hazardous pesticide. Moreover, the country faced severe drought and farming was substantially reduced. The Bhopal Plant became sick and seemed beyond redemption. too Savage cost-cuts were imposed. Many studies done later clearly revealed that the unwise and imprudent steps taken by UCIL to cut on safety systems. Critical air-conditioning for MIC tanks was shut down. These are in many ways comparable to the cost cutting down by BP in its offshore operations in the Gulf of Mexico!

Net result was that across the Bhopal plant, there were signs of neglect and indifference. As Lapierre and Moro describe, “Quite naturally there had come a point where people preferred card games in site canteens to tours of inspection around the dormant volcano.”

Even if the hyperbole is discounted, it was known that UCIL was rudderless. By 1981 several instances of neglect leading to gas poisoning and deaths had come to notice. A special team sent from the U.S. drew pointed attention to several lapses and suggested rectification. The warnings of a local journalist, Mr. Keshwani, went unheeded. It was very poor satisfaction for him that he got a young journalist award months after the disaster.

By October 1984, the possibility of dismantling the plant and shipping it to another developing country such as Brazil or Indonesia was considered and abandoned. One important factor which worked against the idea was that the MIC plant was so corroded that it would not be dismantled! A week before the tragedy, a decision was taken to sell the plant to a willing Indian buyer. Within days, the disaster struck. UCC blamed it on sabotage by Indian workers and stuck to the story for a long time. It was later that it began to wear the convenient corporate veil.

The above factual narration establishes that at the time the disaster struck, UCIL was a subsidiary of UCC. UCC fought a royal battle to retain it as a subsidiary within in its fold. Its operations were manualised and controlled from headquarters. Every decision was taken by or with the approval of the parent company. It would be an act of irresponsibility to claim that UCIL was an Indian company and was operated by Indians and UCC had no role or responsibility. It was later, much later, that Dow took over UCC. Many analysts suggest that the intention behind this sale was, among other things, to pull more cloud over the responsibility of the original owner. It was playing on the weakness of successive Indian governments.

The Guardian (8 June) puts it more carpingly when it said, “The difference between BP and Union Carbide is not just a matter of location of the disaster… It is down to the fact that successive national and state governments of India have rolled over time and time again to the realpolitik of dealing with Dow Chemicals’ other investments in India.”

Given the statements already made by spokesmen from the U.S. on the extradition of Anderson or on the reopening of the case, there is nothing that seems possible now. One only hopes that if this tragedy and the shock its finale has created awaken us to work on newer laws on corporate responsibility and accountability, it would be a gain. World has to be ruled by men and not by or for corporates.

(The writer is a Former Joint Secretary, Ministry of Finance, Government of India)