from Sunday Herald, 07 December 2014, from Bhopal
The former US Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, put pressure on the Indian government to agree a legal settlement that let the US chemical company, Union Carbide, off the hook for the 25,000 people killed by the toxic gas disaster in Bhopal 30 years ago.
A letter released under freedom of information legislation reveals that the late Indian steel magnate, J R D Tata, wrote secretly to the Indian Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, in May 1988 conveying Kissinger’s concern about the delays in reaching agreement on the compensation to be paid to victims. At the time Kissinger was an adviser to Union Carbide and other major US corporations.
Kissinger thought the company was prepared to make a “fair and generous settlement” which “would effectively counter any attack or criticism” because it was more than interim amounts suggested by Indian courts, Tata wrote. In February 1989, the Indian government agreed a settlement for $470 million.
This has since been widely derided as completely inadequate given the horrendous scale and persisting legacy of the disaster. Crucially, as part of the deal, all charges against Union Carbide and its managers were dropped – though this was subsequently overturned by India’s Supreme Court in 1991.
The letter, headed “strictly personal and confidential” and obtained by Bhopal activists, is important because it confirms what many have long suspected: that the US and Tata were complicit in allowing Union Carbide to evade responsibility for the world’s worst industrial accident on 3 December 1984.