Union Carbide Corp. Chairman Warren M. Anderson met here today with India's foreign secretary and top U.S. Embassy officials as he prepared to fly home following his six-hour detention yesterday in Bhopal, the site of Monday's poison gas disaster.
Officials of Madhya Pradesh State have said Anderson has been charged with culpable homicide and negligence in connection with the deaths of close to 2,000 persons when the gas was accidentally vented from the plant. His Indian counterparts in Union Carbide India Ltd., Keshav Mahendra, chairman, and V.P. Gokhale, managing director, were remanded to police custody under house arrest in Bhopal to await trial on the same charges.
Anderson canceled a news conference scheduled for today and Union Carbide officials declined to give a reason for the change in plan. They gave no details about Anderson's plans for returning to corporate headquarters in Danbury, Conn.
[Union Carbide spokesman Kurt Mazurosky said in Danbury that Anderson had told company officials by telephone that "our technical team and their advisers are in the plant investigating the accident," The Associated Press reported. The Bhopal plant was sealed off by local authorities shortly after the accidental venting of poison gas Monday, and company officials had not been allowed to enter.]
The release of Anderson on about $2,000 bond with the request that he leave India immediately became embroiled in political controversy, with opposition leaders charging the government of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi of pressuring state officials in Madhya Pradesh to release the American executive to avoid disclosure of central government negligence. Gandhi's Congress (I) Party controls Madhya Pradesh, and the state's chief minister, Arjun Singh, is a longtime confidant of the Gandhi family.
Singh today said he had informed Gandhi of his decision to release Anderson, but denied consulting the prime minister or anyone else beforehand. He was noncommittal about prospects of Anderson being prosecuted on the charges, telling reporters in Bhopal, "We must see."
Amid signs that the central government was embarrassed by the detention of Anderson for six hours yesterday, the Union Carbide chairman made a visit to the office of Foreign Secretary Maharaja Krishna Rasgotra for what Indian officials said was a general discussion of the situation following the pesticide plant's gas leak.
When asked by a reporter about his arrest, Anderson said, "I don't understand the niceties of Indian law." He added that he didn't know whether he had been arrested or placed under house custody but said he had been told he was free to go.
Anderson's apparent unwillingness to acknowledge Madhya Pradesh officials' statements that criminal charges carrying life sentences had been placed against him has irritated critics of the government's decision to release him and allow him to leave India on low bond.
Anderson is scheduled to leave the country Sunday, reportedly in a corporate jet.
Indian opposition parties seized upon Anderson's release, with Janata Party leader Chandra Shekhar describing it as a "big fraud." "Mr. Anderson was released on the express instructions of high-ups in the government of India who were afraid that this prosecution would reveal complicity and negligence of the state and central governments," Shekhar said.
The breakaway Congress (S) Party, in a message to President Zail Singh, described the accommodations accorded Anderson, including a flight from Bhopal aboard a government aircraft, as "scandalous and shocking."
In the heat of the campaign for the Dec. 24 parliamentary elections, Gandhi's government sought to distance itself from the controversy. With emotions in Bhopal and throughout Madhya Pradesh running strong and Singh's state administration under fire because of its association with the placing of the pesticides factory in a densely populated area, the Congress (I) Party stands to lose its overwhelming majority in the state, according to some political analysts here.
Chief Minister Singh flew to New Delhi tonight to meet with Attorney General L.N. Singh to determine legal proceedings against Union Carbide and discuss what compensation should be demanded from the multinational firm. Before leaving Bhopal, he told reporters that he was unaware of Anderson's contention here that while in Bhopal yesterday he did not consider himself under arrest or being detained in the Union Carbide guest villa, which was guarded by two dozen police armed with rifles.
"I don't know what he said. I don't want to join issue with him. If there was no arrest, there would have been no bail."
When informed that Anderson had not left the country but was conducting visits in New Delhi with Indian and U.S. officials, Singh said, "It was our understanding that he would leave."