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What Was Henry Kissinger’s Role in Bhopal Gas Tragedy?

The recent demise of renowned US diplomat Henry Kissinger has brought to light a controversial chapter in history. Known for his adept handling of international relations, Kissinger’s involvement in shielding American chemical company Union Carbide after the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy has raised eyebrows. Here, we delve into the events surrounding the tragedy and Kissinger’s role in the aftermath.

The Bhopal Gas Tragedy

On the night of December 2 and 3, 1984, a catastrophic gas leak from the Union Carbide factory in Bhopal claimed over 3,000 lives and affected more than 1 lakh people. The aftermath witnessed chaos, with hospitals overwhelmed and residents grappling with respiratory ailments, burns, and blindness.

Warren Anderson’s Arrest and Legal Proceedings

Following the tragedy, Warren Anderson, the chairman of Union Carbide, was arrested, but he was released on bail. The Indian government filed a $3.3 billion damages claim against Union Carbide in a US court.

Kissinger’s Involvement

Kissinger’s consulting firm, Kissinger Associates, took on Union Carbide as a client after the disaster. The firm lobbied for Union Carbide’s interests for years, impacting the compensation negotiations for the victims. A revealing letter from Indian industrialist JRD Tata to Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1988 disclosed Kissinger’s concerns about the delay in compensation negotiations.

Complicity Exposed

JRD Tata’s letter highlighted Kissinger’s role as a consultant and adviser to Union Carbide, expressing the firm’s readiness for a “fair and generous settlement.” Kissinger believed such a settlement would counter criticism and garner public support.

The Supreme Court Settlement

In February 1989, after intense legal deliberations, the Supreme Court ordered Union Carbide to pay a final settlement of $470 million. This settlement faced widespread condemnation for being insufficient to address the magnitude of the tragedy. Notably, it dropped all charges against Union Carbide and its managers, a decision overturned by the Supreme Court in 1991.

Legacy of Injustice

The legacy of the Bhopal gas tragedy remains tainted by the inadequate settlement and the lack of accountability for Union Carbide. Kissinger’s involvement raises questions about the ethical considerations surrounding international diplomacy and corporate interests.

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