Union Carbide Corp. Chairman Warren M. Anderson today blamed the Indian government for a deadlock in negotiations over the Bhopal poison gas leak, charging that Indian officials had "simply rejected out of hand" the company's offer to compensate the victims.
In comments made after the company's first annual meeting since the Bhopal disaster, Anderson said he would be willing to go back to India and personally negotiate with Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to revive the talks.
But he said he was "puzzled" by the attitude of Indian government officials and charged they were following a course that would result in "more frustration, delay and name calling, none of which does anything for the victims."
Anderson's remarks came just a few days after Indian government officials were quoted as saying they had broken off talks with Carbide after describing the company's offer to settle the case as being "ridiculously low." Anderson insisted that the offer was "fair" and "comprehensive," but refused to provide details.
Indian press reports quoting unnamed government officials said last week Carbide had offered to pay about $200 million spread out over 30 years -- an amount that would be fully covered by the company's insurance, costing shareholders nothing.
"We do not understand the objections of the Indian government," Anderson said. "It is not enough to say our offer is too low without giving any rationale for raising it. . . .
"They don't understand what my problems are," Anderson added a few moments later. "I have stockholders, I have insurance companies, I have shareholders suits, I have derivative suits."
An Indian Embassy spokesman said today that the government did not wish to comment on Anderson's remarks because the Bhopal issue is now in court, adding that "it goes without saying that the option of a negotiated settlement is always open."
The spokesman also indicated that, under guidelines to be laid down by U.S. Judge John F. Keenan, the government would be willing to accept Carbide's offer of $5 million in emergency relief for Bhopal victims. Keenan had suggested such a payment during a court hearing last week.
The Bhopal accident occurred when a massive leak of deadly methyl isocyanate from a Carbide plant killed an estimated 2,000 people in what is believed to be the worst industrial accident in history. Since then, about 65 lawsuits asking for billions of dollars in compensatory and punitive damages have been filed against Carbide in the federal courts.
The disaster and its aftermath have reduced the value of Carbide stock by about 20 percent and created large uncertainties that threaten the company's future, according to some financial analysts. But at today's annual meeting, company president Alec Flamm took pains to assuage anxious stockholders, insisting that the incident had had virtually no impact on Carbide operations.
"With a few minor exceptions, our businesses have not been affected at all," said Flamm. "Union Carbide is still one of the world's largest industrial companies. . . . We are financially sound."
Last week, the company reported that its profits were down 34 percent during the first three months of 1985 compared with the same 1984 period. It also said its sales dropped 9 percent because of non-Bhopal related factors, such as lower demand by manufacturers for chemicals, plastics and other basic products.
But some analysts question the company's assertions, noting that Bhopal has increased Carbide's insurance costs and forced suspension of production of MIC at the company's Institute, W. Va., plant, causing it to lose pesticide sales.