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Environment Minister promises to look into Delhi's Okhla area awaiting 1984 industrial disaster like fate due to unapproved Chinese technology

Written By Gopal Krishna on Saturday, May 16, 2015 | 12:21 AM

After 21 hearings NGT stands on the same treadmill where High Court stood after 28 hearings despite “technical competence” 

Faced with public health disaster Okhla residents confused with NGT’s observations on Jindal’s municipal waste incinerator

Delhi Govt remains insensitive to the sad plight of Okhla residents  

May 16, 2015: Taking cognizance of the complaint dated May 14, 2015 regarding Delhi's Okhla area awaiting 1984 industrial disaster like fate due to unapproved Chinese technology, Prakash Javadekar, Union Minister of Environment, Forests & Climate has promised to look into the matter. In a response dated May 15, 2015, he wrote, “Will look into the matter” and forwarded the complaint to Shashi Shekhar, Special Secretary, MoEFCC and Chairman, Central Pollution Control Board. The complaint letter and relevant documents shared with the minister are attached. Shashi Shekhar is also the head of Hazardous Substances Management Division which deals with issues of municipal solid waste (MSW) as well.  
This is the case of a Dioxins and heavy metals emitting unapproved Chinese incinerator technology based municipal solid waste (MSW) to energy plant of Timarpur-Okhla Waste Management Co Pvt Ltd (TOWMCL) of M/s Jindal Urban Infrastructure Limited (JUIL), a company of M/s Jindal Saw Group Limited which faced 28 dates of hearing in Writ Petition No. 9901 of 2009 at  Delhi High Court and is currently pending before the National Green Tribunal (NGT)'s bench headed by Justice Swatanter Kumar since February 2013. The case is named Application No. 22 of 2013 in NGT. The matter came up for hearing yet again for the 21st time on 12th May, 2015. By an earlier order of 7th May, 2015, NGT had cancelled the scheduled hearing. This case has been replete with such cancellations both in  Court and the NGT while residents of Delhi's Okhla locality await relief and justice.
The attached Show Cause Notice issued to the plant of Jindal's TOWMCL reveals unambiguously that the its Consent to operate under Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981 & Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 granted by Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC), which exercises the delegated powers of CPCB had expired on 20th March, 2013. The plant is operating without the same since then. But DPCC has failed to order its closure despite such blatant violation of law.
Even NGT has not done anything to ensure closure of the plant till date. It is evident that rule of law has lost its meaning in the matter of this plant. It is apparent that the regulatory agencies and NGT might is dwarfed by the tremendous influence of the company in question. As per the website of TOWMCL, it is claimed that the plant received Consent to operate on 21st December. 2011. The fact is that the plant is operating without consent to operate since 2013.

As per the attached official document of DPCC on the subject of "Status of Okhla Waste to Energy plant by Timarpur-Okhla Waste Management Co Pvt Ltd" (TOWMCL) as on 16th April, 2015. The plant of TOWMCL is operational. It is processing 1950 MT of waste and generating 16 MW of power. The report mentions that the plant was supposed to use RDF technology but refrains from mentioning that it is using an unapproved Chinese technology brought to light by the CPCB committee report prepared pursuant to 22th March 2011 dated order of the then Union Minister of Environment & Forests. This led to the official recognition of deviations from approved technologies.. The Chinese technology provider is from Hangzhou New Century Company Ltd of Hangzhou Boiler Group. The High Powered Technical Experts Evaluation Committee of CPCB in its 31 page report on the Timarpur-Okhla Waste to Energy Incinerator Plant brought to light the illegalities committed by Jindal's TOWMCL. The report was communicated on March 22, 2012. This report is based on three meetings of the Technical Experts Evaluation Committee held on April 26, 2011, August 11, 2011 and September 22, 2011 under the chairmanship of Chairman, CPCB.

Notably, substitution of technology is prohibited under the provisions of the Environmental Clearance. It is deemed dangerous to according to a report of CSIR-National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI).

Notably, the representatives of GTZ (German Technical Cooperation) led by Dr. Juergen Porst, Senior Advisor stressed the need for a Disaster Management Plan in the very first meeting of this CPCB Committee, which is annexed to the CPCB's report. This finds reference in the minutes of the meeting annexed with the report. It underlines the possibility of disaster from the Timarpur-Okhla Waste to Energy Incinerator Plant, which is situated in a residential area.

It is noteworthy that a hazardous plant in Bhopal's residential area that led to world worst industrial disaster in 1984 also did not have any disaster management plan. This report made a shocking revelation that although  High Court has been hearing the case since 2009, the project proponent did not inform the court about gross deviations from the project design plan envisaged in the EIA report. As per the minutes of the second meeting of this committee, non-cooperative approach of the senior officials of Timarpur-Okhla Waste to Energy Incinerator Plant was "condemned". Representatives of GTZ underlined that there was lack of transparency with regard to environmental and health impact on the neighborhood residents. It was also noted that the fugitive emissions and the expected emission of Dioxins and Furans has not been quantified. The characteristic of ash and required standards was not mentioned.

Prof. T R Sreekrishnan, Department of Biochemical Engineering and Biotechnology and a member of the Committee stated that disposal option for incineration instead of bio-methanation proposed for green waste is in violation of what was mentioned in the EIA report of the company in question.

Notably, all subsequent reports by subordinate officers of Chairman, CPCB are subservient to this report of the High Powered Technical Experts Evaluation Committee headed by Chairman, CPCB. This report revealed how illegal Chinese boilers are being used without any approval in Delhi's Okhla Waste to Energy project. The technical review by CPCB committee admitted that efficacy of reciprocal stoker type boilers (in place of RDF) "is not known for Indian conditions and requires to be verified."  There is a compelling reason for treating this report as the main report of CPCB.

DPCC's attached status report dated 16th April, 2015 states, "...in case the Project Proponent (Jindal's TOWMCL) found defaulting in compliance of the direction of Tribunal, the Tribunal would be compelled to direct the closure of this industry." The DPCC concludes that "directions u/s 31 (A) of the Air Act, 1981 was issued on 03.07.2014 and simultaneously show cause notice was issued for refusal of consent under Air & Water Act and authorization under MSW Rules. The Project Proponent has filed statutory appeal against the directions dated 03.07.2014 before the Ministry of Environment & Forests, Government of India. The appeal was listed for 27.02.2015 and the same is pending. The matter is to be listed for final hearing and the next date of hearing is yet to be notified." It is apparent that even DPCC was waiting for NGT to hear the matter on 7th and 8th May, 2015 after CPCB filed its inspection report.

Notably, the Environmental Clearance (EC) which has been amended several times was given to the plant of Jindal's TOWMCL. It is the sad legacy of Shri A Raja years in the MoEF and Shri Rakesh Mehta years in Municipal Corporation of Delhi and Government of NCT of Delhi.

The ToR given by MoEF's Experts Appraisal Committee to the project in question specifically demanded "Disaster Management Plan" but the High Powered Committee constituted by the then Union Minister of Environment & Forests headed by Chairman, CPCB observed in its report that this plan has not been prepared. It condemned the non-cooperation by the company. This committee noted that this plant is operating in violation of Municipal Solid Waste (Management & Handling) [MSW] Rules, 2000. It came to light from the observation of A B Akolkar from CPCB. Akolkar is currently the Member Secretary of CPCB.

By an order of 6th April, 2015, NGT directed, "In  the interest of justice , we  grant  last opportunity and we make  it clear that if the Applicant  do not argues on the next date of hearing , we  shall proceed  with  the  matter  in  accordance with law. List this matter for arguments on 7th and 8th May, 2015." and had cancelled scheduled hearing of 6th and 7th April, 2015. On 11th May, 2015, it ordered that it will hear the matter on 12th May, 2015. It is evident from NGT's own order that it did not proceed after granting the "last opportunity" despite explicitly promising that it would do so.

NGT's order dated 5th March, 2015 had noted that of "the report of the Joint Inspection Team" consisting of representatives of Ministry of Environment & Forests (MoEF), Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC).  NGT had allowed "Two  of  the  representatives of the Applicant" to "be associated  with  inspection  team  and  are permitted  to  take  the  photographs." NGT had observed, "This shall be a  final  report,  which  we  are directing  to  be  filed  before the  Tribunal." It had also sought report on whether "the Project Proponent (Jindal's TOWMCL) is operating within the   framework of the Environmental Clearance." NGT's order dated 12th November 2014 reads, "We  also  direct  the  inspecting  team  to  record  its findings  as   regard   the   compliance   of   the   terms   and   conditions prescribed   for  the   consent to   operate   and  Environmental Clearance granted to the Project Proponent." By its order dated 18th December, 2014, NGT had given "four weeks" time for the report to be filed before it. But it was not done and this deadline was not complied with. NGT had fixed 12th February, 2015 as the date for "final hearing." The report was received on 4th March, 2015 by the Applicant, the Sukhdev Vihar Residents Welfare Association following which NGT had fixed 6th & 7th April, 2015 for arguments.  But the "final hearing" is yet to happen even after May 12th, 2015.
NGT's order dated 6th August, 2014 observed, ""The Learned Counsel appearing for MoEF submits that  he would take instruction s from the Ministry both in regard  to the prescription of standard for PM as well as what is the  fate of the Appeal preferred by the Project Proponent against  the direction of the Board dated 3 rd July, 2014."

It is evident from the order that CPCB has passed certain order which is adversarial to Jindal's TOWMCL plant located in Sukhdev Vihar, Okhla locality.

In its very first order dated 11th March 2013, NGT had stated, "We may notice that according to the contention raised by the learned counsel appearing for the Applicant, even Ministry of Environment and Forests had imposed certain conditions, which have not been complied with by the Unit and it has breached number of other obligations upon it." Despite having taken cognizance of the breach of law, till date NGT has not provided any relief to the residents of Okhla area. It had constituted an expert committee to enable it to appreciate the contentions raised before it.

In effect, what the NGT has done between February 2013 and May 2015 is to constitute committees and wait for their reports even as the residents and birds of Okhla continue to be engulfed by the toxic ash fall from the highly polluting plant of Jindal's TOWMCL. If this is going to be the case, it is better for the  High Court to hear the matter.

This case demonstrates that NGT is no better than  High Court in terms of time it takes to decide cases of environmental damage. The comparison between orders of  High Court passed during its 28 dates of hearing and order passed by NGT unequivocally demonstrates that NGT is worse than  High Court in terms of providing relief to the residents of Okhla. Not only that, NGT has done erroneous reading of the  court's orders with no immediate remedy in sight. It is emerging that  High Court is more competent in such matters.

NGT's sensitivity towards the plight of the victims of Jindal's plant in Okhla articulated in the petition/application by Sukhdev Vihar residents can be gauged from its order dated 18th March, 2015 in Original Application No. 141 of 2014 (Saloni Singh & Anr. Vs. Union of India & Ors). Its order by NGT bench headed by Justice Swatanter Kumar reads: "We are informed that Okhla plant dealing with the MSW has a capacity of 2000 MT/day and nearly 1900 metric tonnes of MSW is being processed at the plant everyday. This practically means that this plant has come to its saturation point. We are also informed that another MSW Plant of 1350 metric tonnes at Ghazipur is to become operational from 31st March, 2015. However, it is further informed that it is only the RDF section of the plant that would become fully operational by that date.

The power generation would become operative by the June, 2015. We direct that the Authorities shall take all steps within their power to complete this project as stipulated by June, 2015. This plant should become operative to deal with 1350 metric tonnes of MSW everyday. The Secretary, Power and Energy Department, NCT Delhi shall personally be responsible in addition to the high power officers mentioned above for compliance of these directions. The Railway and the concerned Corporation shall tie-up with NCT. Delhi and start sanding their MSW to the Gazipur site w.e.f. 01-04-2015."

In an apparent display of its continued ambivalence NGT, in its order in another case titled Ms. Almithra H Patel Vs Union of India & Others in O.A. No 109 of 2014 opined that WTE plant should be encouraged in view of the fact that it resolves the issue of non-availability of land and landfill sites, produces energy at lesser price and also addresses the problem of leachate which contaminates ground water. It directed all the states and union territories to explore if MSW could be used in a meaningful purpose by establishing such plants.
Global experience demonstrates without any dispute that incinerator based WTE plants do not resolve the issue of non-availability of land and landfill sites because disposal of incineration ash into the landfill site remains a problem recognized under Schedule IV of the MSW (Management and Handling) Rules, 2000. This experience also shows that energy from municipal waste is not produced at any lesser price in fact it more expensive. The myth of incinerator based WTE plant solving the problem of leachate which contaminates ground water has long been debunked. The existing literature on waste management underlines that incinerator based WTE plants constitute a meaningless and misplaced option. The fact is that it is not a solution, it is a problem creator. It gives birth to the problem of what can deemed as landfills in the sky. It is a case of putting resources up in flames.

These orders of NGT reveal that residents of Sukhdev Vihar and other colonies of Okhla is expected to accept the existence of Jindal's MSW based plant based on unapproved Chinese technology and admittedly without any Disaster Management Plan as a fait accompli. Not only that the NGT is so convinced about the usefulness of such projects that it has directed the Authorities to "take all steps within their power to complete" similar project in Ghazipur "as stipulated by June, 2015."

In fact the Master Plan Report (2020) of Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) says, "RDF is often an option when emission standards are lax and RDF is burned in conventional boilers with no special precautions for emissions." It is surprising that despite such observation in the report, NGT recommends RDF based Ghazipur plant and implicitly approves unapproved Chinese technology for Okhla.

It also demonstrates that NGT does not have the technical competence for which its creation was justified.

It is noteworthy that Manish Sisodia, Deputy Chief Minister, NCT of Delhi inspected the site of Ghazipur's waste-to-energy plant to witness its trial reportedly said, "It is undoubtedly expensive but we need to do such experiments to make Delhi a world-class city. The plant is ready but not working since some files have been pending in the excise department. We will get those cleared as soon as possible."

It appears strange that he is following the footprints of a government whose misplaced initiatives like these led to it being vanquished. It is hoped that your consideration of the matter will set matters right.

This order underlines that the NGT has apparently reached its verdict regarding the fate of Jindal's plant in Okhla prior to "final hearing" of the case of residents of Sukhdev Vihar. It seems legal scholars might categorize such observations as judicial impropriety. This strengthens the belief in the proceedings of the  High Court.

Notably, Delhi High Court had attempted to bring some relief to the Okhla community by ordering immediate closure of biomedical waste incinerator plant Sukhdev Vihar, Okhla in Writ Petition (C) No. 6976 of 2008 in the matter of Dioxins emitting biomedical waste incinerator in Sukhdev Vihar, Okhla.  High Court judgment is eminently relevant to the case in NGT because the case was transferred midway from the Ho'ble High Court to the NGT.

The judgment refers to 'The summary of "Epidemiological Studies on Adverse Health Effects Associated with Incineration" would show that medical waste incinerators are a leading source of dioxins and mercury in the environment and there is link between incinerator emissions and adverse health impacts on incinerator workers and residents living around the incinerators.'

The observations made in the judgment will have far reaching implications. It reads: "Both older and more modern incinerators can contribute to the contamination of local soil and vegetation with dioxins and heavy metals. In several European countries, cow's milk from farms located in the vicinity of incinerators has been found to contain elevated levels of dioxin, in some cases above regulatory limits. Increased levels of dioxins have been found in the tissues of residents near to incinerators in the UK, Spain and Japan. At an incinerator in Finland, mercury was increased in hair of residents living in the vicinity. Children living near a modern incinerator in Spain were found to have elevated levels of urinary thioethers, a biomarker of toxic exposure. " It notes that "After 2 years of operation of incinerator, dioxins levels were found increased by about 25% in both groups living between 0.5 to 1.5 and 3.5 to 4.0 km away (201 people) of people. In the repeat analysis, the increase was in the range of 10-15%".

It records that "Mothers living close to incinerators and crematoria from 1956 to 1993" showed "increased risk of lethal congenital abnormalities, in particular, spinal bifida and heart defects, near incinerators: increased risk of stillbirths and anacephalus near crematoria". With regard to "Residents from 7 to 64 years old living within 5 km of an incinerator and the incinerator workers" the judgment observes, "Levels of mercury in hair increased with closer proximity to the incinerator during a 10 year period".

The judgment found that "Residents living within 10 km of an incinerator, refinery, and waste disposal site" showed "Significant increase in laryngeal cancer in men living with closer proximity to the incinerator and other pollution sources". The "Residents living around an incinerator and other pollution sources" showed "Significant increase in lung cancer related specifically to the incinerator". The "People living within 7.5 km of 72 incinerators" displayed "Risks of all cancers and specifically of stomach, colorectal, liver and lung cancer increased with closer proximity to incinerators". The petition was filed by residents seeking directions to the authorities and the operator to close down the Common Bio-Medical Waste Treatment facility operating less than 30 Meters from the DDA Self Financing Scheme Flats at Sukhdev Vihar and other colonies and burning 12-15 tons of hazardous bio-medical Waste per day injurious to the health and the life of the 10 lakh public living around it and degrading the environment for all times to come.

The order observes, "10. In Master Plan for Delhi, 2021, notified on 07.02.2007, hazardous waste processing viz. hospital/medical/industrial waste is amongst the industries, manufacturing of which shall be prohibited within National Capital Territory of Delhi."

It is not in dispute that Delhi's municipal waste has hazardous waste characteristics.

It is noteworthy that the biomedical waste incinerator is located exactly in the vicinity of the residential colonies and Jindal's controversial municipal waste incinerator.

The  Court observed that "This is a mandatory requirement of the guidelines issued by CPCB, that such facility should be far away from residential and sensitive areas" The same holds true for the location of the Jindal's municipal waste based incinerator plant. This order of High Court underlines that its approach to environmental damage is better than that of NGT. The plant is amidst residential colonials and institutions of national importance like Central Road Research Institute, Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology and the Indian Institute of Information Technology.  Such toxic emissions from the Jindal's power plant in an ecologically sensitive area and thickly populated area has become a routine affair with all the concerned authorities turning a blind eye towards this illegitimate and illegal act. This plant has violated all the rules in the rule book.

Besides violating all the relevant laws and rules, this plant is violation of Wildlife Protection Act 1972 creating a compelling reason for the closure of this plant. The plant became operational in 2012 but it is using untested and unapproved Chinese incinerator technology, a fact noted in the report of the Central Pollution Control Board committee constituted after a delegation had met Shri Jairam Ramesh, the then Union Minister of Environment & Forests pursuant to his site visit of the plant. It is noteworthy that the Union Environment Minister had written to the then Chief Minister, NCT of Delhi underling that the plant is functioning in violation of environmental regulations.

Notably, this plant does not have clearance from the Delhi Urban Arts Commission, which is a mandatory requirement.

This plant is in a green belt contrary to the Master Plan of Delhi, in contravention of section 3(2) (v) of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, Rule 5 (ix) of Environment (protection) Rules, 1986 and Guidelines for Establishment of Industries issued by MoEF.

As per  Supreme Court's order in the Writ Petition (Civil) No.888 of 1996 such subsidies are not meant for incinerator plants like the one in Okhla.  Court's order dated 6th May, 2005 said, "...we hope that till the position is clear, the Government would not sanction any further subsidies." It is noteworthy that on 15th May, 2007, the Court's order "permit (s) Ministry of Non-conventional Energy Sources (MNES) to go ahead for the time being with 5 pilot projects chosen by them" but it is noteworthy that this refers specifically to bio-methanation technology. MNES is renamed as Ministry of New & Renewable Energy (MNRE) and is part of Power Ministry at present. It has been revealed through RTI that neither the proposed Delhi's waste to energy incinerator projects one of those 5 pilot projects nor is it based on the recommended technology.

It is apparent that amendments made in the EC have been made to gain this assistance of Rs 1.5 crore/MW even as the stay by the  Supreme Court on sanction of any further subsidies for projects on energy recovery from Municipal Solid Wastes continues to be in force, in manifest violation of Court's order. In the light of the Court's order MNRE must be persuaded to withdraw or modify its letter (No.10/3/2005-UICA) to stop promotion of polluting technologies like incinerators.

Supreme Court is quite categorical in saying, "The Committee has recommended that projects based on bio-methanation of MSW should be taken up only on segregated/uniform waste unless it is demonstrated that in Indian conditions, the waste segregation plant/process can separate waste suitable for bio-methanation. It has opined that there is a need to take up pilot projects that promote integrated systems for segregation/collection/ transportation and processing and treatment of waste. In view of the report of the Committee and having regard to the relevant facts, we modify the order passed by this Court earlier and permit Ministry of Non-conventional Energy Sources (MNES) to go ahead for the time being with 5 pilot projects chosen by them, keeping in view the recommendations made by the Expert Committee and then take appropriate decision in the matter." Despite this Delhi Government has erred in supporting illegal waste to energy incinerators in Delhi which is contrary to the  Court's order.

But Delhi Government falsely claimed in the  High Court that it was one of the five projects cleared by  Supreme Court leading to dismissal of petition filed by residents but when the  High Court later found to its shock that such a claim was manifestly untrue, the petition was restored. It was in March 2009 that Writ Petition (Civil) No. 9901 of 2009 which was initially dismissed on 12th August, 2009 because of misrepresentation of facts by A S Chandiok the then Additional Solicitor General.  High Court later found that it was misled earlier which had led to it dismissing the petition. The Petition was restored by an order dated 15th January, 2010. In the presence of A.S. Chandihok, the bench headed by the Chief Justice,  Delhi High Court in the order observed, "that the project in question" and "the location of the pilot project in Delhi was neither recommended by the Expert Committee nor approved by the Supreme Court."

In a strange case one of NGT's order in the case in question relied on reasoning advanced in the dismissal order of  High Court and chose not to take cognizance of the  Court's restoration of the same case which later admittedly got transferred to NGT.

Notably, High Court on had asked Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and the Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC) 18th July, 2010 to conduct a joint inquiry about India's first waste-to-energy plant and file a report on the allegations that it posed health risks to citizens.  The Bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justice Sanjiv Khanna ordered, "A joint report be submitted by the DPCC and the CPCB after an inquiry of the site of the energy plant about the alleged risks posed to citizens".

It is also apparent that NGT is simply repeating the orders given by the  Court. The judicial process in this case at least resembles a treadmill.

It is noteworthy that Asian Development Bank (ADB)'s Asian Pacific Carbon Fund (APCF) dropped this waste to energy plant out of its portfolio amidst controversy surrounding it. In any case it is a misplaced carbon credit project. It underlines how carbon trade is not part of the solution but part of the problem.

Significantly, as BJP MP Vijay Kumar Malhotra, in a letter dated 27th June, 2008 to the Lt. Governor of Delhi had expressed apprehension over the location of such a plant in South Delhi.  He wrote, "This plant would release various types of harmful gases which will certainly pose serious health threat to the lives of surrounding residents." Subhash Chopra, as Congress MLA, Delhi Legislative Assembly wrote separately to Chief Minister of Delhi and Lt. Governor of Delhi demanding inquiry into the toxic flay ash from the Jindal's large plant in a letter dated 27th December, 2013.

Now a bizarre situation has emerged because the arguments for Refuse Derived Fuel (RDF) incineration technology that was advanced by the company and the law officers of the previous central and state governments are no more relevant because the plant is using an experimental Chinese technology which was never ever mentioned at the time of submitting the project proposal or in its EIA report based on which a so-called Public Hearing was conducted in Saket.

The ongoing protest rallies and an online campaigns against the toxic, waste-to-energy incinerator where students are also participating in large numbers underlines that the operation of Jindal's waste burning based power plant is an act of environmental lawlessness in the heart of the national capital.

The closure of this plant will be a major and memorable contribution to NCR's landscape for generations to come and help prevent approval for hazardous industrial units in the region at a time when Delhi's residents are gasping for fresh air.

Instead of adopting Not In My Back Yard (NIMBY) approach-which entails shifting a polluting unit to another location-the ministry should order closure of the plant and adoption of Zero Waste philosophy for undertaking decentralized and sustainable waste management practices recommended by several committees. The experience of shifting of stone crushers from Lal Kua to elsewhere showed that mere shifting did not make it non-polluting. In any case transfer of waste from richer localities to poorer localities tantamount to waste colonialism because the latter offer least resistance to flow waste as is evident from the current state of affairs.

Having been involved with these issues since October 2000 and with this specific issue since March 2005, ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA) has sought minister’s urgent intervention for prevention of unfolding public health and environmental disaster in Delhi's Okhla area and adjoining areas of Uttar Pradesh in particular and NCR region in general due to the Dioxins emitting plant of Jindal's TOWMCL.

For Details: Gopal Krishna, ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA), Mb: 08227816731, 09818089660
E-mail: 1715 krishna @gmail.com, Web: www.toxicswatch.org

Govt must Make India Asbestos Free by rectifying irrationality of banning mining of asbestos but continuing its trade

Written By Gopal Krishna on Friday, May 15, 2015 | 1:46 AM

Inclusion of White Chrysotile Asbestos in the UN List of hazardous substances postponed, to be considered again at Rotterdam Convention’s COP 8

Govt must Make India Asbestos Free by rectifying irrationality of banning mining of asbestos but continuing its trade


Documents on hazardous substances like White Chrysotile Asbestos and incurable diseases must be made available in Indian languages

May 15, 2015: Following opposition by Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Zimbabwe to the listing of White Chrysotile Asbestos , UN Rotterdam Convention’s Seventh Conference of Parties (COP7) agreed to postpone the issue of its inclusion for consideration by COP8. Unlike these countries, Inventory of Hazardous Chemicals Import in India prepared by Union Ministry of Environment & Forests, Government of India lists 'Asbestos' at serial no. 26 as one of the 180 hazardous chemicals imported in India.

In a bizarre act while Government of India has technically banned asbestos mining, it continues to allow import and export of asbestos. "In view of the deleterious effect of asbestos mining on health of the workers, the government has ordered the State governments in 1986 not to grant any new mining lease for asbestos (including Chrysotile variety) in the country" as per Government of India’s letter with reference no. 7/23/84-AM-III/AM-VI dated 09.07.1986, Government must make India asbestos free by rectifying the irrationality of banning mining of asbestos but continuing its trade.

Incidentally, United Nations Committee of Experts on the Transportation of Dangerous Goods classifies Chrysotile Asbestos in Hazard Class and Packing Group, UN number 2590, Class 9 – Miscellaneous dangerous goods and articles. Its International Maritime Dangerous Goods (IMDG) Code is UN No: 2590: Class or division 9.

Notably, all the forms of asbestos including Actinolite asbestos, Anthophyllite, Amosite asbestos, Crocidolite and Tremolite are already in the PIC list except White Chrysotile Asbestos. While there is a genral prohibition on production, importation, commercialization and use of Asbestos fibres Amphiboles forms (Crocidolites, Amosite, Actinolite, Tremolite, Anthophyllite) and products formulated on its basis but India gives "Consent to import only subject to specified conditions" for Anthophyllite. Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI) has been struggling to ensure its inclusion of all kinds of asbestos in the Convention’s hazardous substances list.

The inclusion of Chrysotile Asbestos in Annex III to the Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent (PIC) Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade was on the agenda of its CoP 7. It was part of matters related to the implementation of the Convention through consideration of chemicals for inclusion in Annex III to the Convention through UN document no. UNEP/FAO/RC/COP.7/11. The chemicals in the PIC list are clearly divided into two groups: industrial chemicals and pesticides. Parties make import responses for each chemical and the responses are published in the PIC Circular. The criteria for listing a chemical in Annex III are contained in Annex II of the Convention.

In accordance with articles 5 and 7 of the Convention, the Chemical Review Committee (CRC) at its second meeting recommended the listing of chrysotile asbestos in Annex III to the Convention, approved the text of a draft decision guidance document on chrysotile asbestos (UNEP/FAO/RC/COP.7/11/Add.1, annex) and decided to forward the recommendation and the draft decision guidance document to the Conference of the Parties for consideration.

At its third meeting, the Conference of the Parties deliberated on the inclusion of chrysotile asbestos in Annex III to the Convention and, by paragraph 2 of decision RC-3/3, decided that the requirements set out in article 5, including the criteria set out in Annex II to the Convention as referenced in paragraph 6 of article 5 of the Convention, the requirements set out in paragraph 1 of article 7 of the Convention and the requirements set out in the first sentence of paragraph 2 of Article 7 of the Convention on the process for listing in Annex III to the Convention, had been met. The Conference of the Parties, however, did not reach consensus on whether to list chrysotile asbestos and, by paragraph 1 of decision RC-3/3, decided to further consider the amendment of Annex III to the Rotterdam Convention to include chrysotile asbestos at its fourth meeting.

At its fourth and fifth meetings, the Conference of the Parties deliberated on the inclusion of chrysotile asbestos in Annex III to the Rotterdam Convention, but was not able to reach consensus. At the fifth meeting of the Conference of the Parties, the contact group on candidate chemicals prepared a draft decision on follow-up action by the Chemical Review Committee on the listing of chrysotile asbestos. As the chemical was not listed, the Conference of the Parties agreed to annex the draft decision to the report of the Conference on the work of its fifth meeting for possible consideration at a future meeting (UNEP/FAO/RC/COP.5/26, annex IV).

Following discussions at its sixth meeting, the Conference of the Parties decided, given the lack of consensus, to include further consideration of the listing of chrysotile asbestos in Annex III to the Convention on the agenda of its seventh meeting (UNEP/FAO/RC/COP.6/20, para.79).

At CoP 7, the proposed action included parties to satisfy themselves that all the requirements for listing in Annex III have been met after considering the recommendation of the CRC to make chrysotile asbestos subject to the prior informed consent procedure and accordingly to list the chemical in Annex III to the Convention. Following which they were supposed to decide to amend Annex III to the Convention to list Chrysotile Asbestos, the industrial chemical. It was also supposed to decide that this amendment to enter into force for all parties on 15th September 2015 after approving the draft decision guidance document on chrysotile asbestos. But the proceedings did not proceed as proposed.  

On 14th May, 2015, COP7 considered the inclusion of chrysotile asbestos in Annex III of the Convention (UNEP/FAO/RC/COP.7/11) but owing to opposition from interested parties like the Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Zimbabwe, the issue of listing of chrysotile asbestos has been deferred yet again for consideration by CoP8.

The obligations of the Convention on responsible trade fall on those exporting countries that are Parties to the Convention. The Convention requires countries to strengthen their own chemicals management infrastructures and enforcement mechanisms. The Convention includes final regulatory actions (bans or severe restrictions) where the action was taken for the purposes of human health OR environmental reasons but mere listing does not lead to ban. The inclusion of chemicals in Annex III is not an invitation for Parties to ban their use. The purpose of the prior informed consent procedure is to allow countries to make their own informed decisions on future imports of the chemical depending on their own needs, circumstances and uses of the chemical. However, if a Party decides not to allow any future import of a PIC chemical, then they must also ensure that any domestic manufacture and use of the chemical is banned. Imports of the chemical from non-Parties to the Convention should also not be allowed.

As at 31 October 2014, there were 154 parties to the Convention. During the reporting period (June 2013 to December 2014), four States- Afghanistan, Cambodia, Sao Tome and Principe and Indonesia acceded to or ratified the Convention.

The substances listed in the Annex III include Alachlor, Aldicarb, Aldrin, Azinphos-methyl, Binapacryl, Captafol, Chlordane, Chlordimeform, Chlorobenzilate, DDT, Dieldrin, Dinitro-ortho-cresol (DNOC) and its salts (such as ammonium salt, potassium salt and sodium salt),  Dinoseb and its salts and esters, EDB (1,2-dibromoethane), Endosulfan, Ethylene dichloride, Ethylene oxide, Fluoroacetamide, HCH (mixed isomers), Heptachlor, Hexachlorobenzene, Lindane (gamma-HCH), Mercury compounds, including inorganic mercury compounds, alkyl mercury compounds and alkyloxyalkyl and aryl mercury compounds, Monocrotophos, Parathion, Pentachlorophenol and its salts and esters, Toxaphene (Camphechlor), Tributyl tin compounds, Dustable powder formulations containing a combination of benomyl at or above 7%, carbofuran at or above 10% and thiram at or above 15%, Methamidophos (Soluble liquid formulations of the substance that exceed 600 g active ingredient/l), Methyl-parathion (Emulsifiable concentrates (EC) at or above 19.5% active ingredient and dusts at or above 1.5% active ingredient), Phosphamidon (Soluble liquid formulations of the substance that exceed 1000 g active ingredient/l), Actinolite asbestos, Anthophyllite, Amosite asbestos, Crocidolite, Tremolite, Commercial octabromodiphenyl ether (including Hexabromodiphenyl ether and Heptabromodiphenyl ether), Commercial pentabromodiphenyl ether (including tetrabromodiphenyl ether and pentabromodiphenyl ether), Perfluorooctane sulfonic acid, perfluorooctane sulfonates, perfluorooctane sulfonamides and perfluorooctane sulfonyls, Polybrominated Biphenyls (PBBs), Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs), Polychlorinated Terphenyls (PCTs), Tetraethyl lead, Tetramethyl lead and Tris (2,3 dibromopropyl) phosphate.

The list includes all forms of asbestos except white chrysotile asbestos.

The seventh meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Rotterdam Convention (RC COP-7) was held from 4th to 15th May, 2015 simultaneously with the twelfth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Basel Convention (BC COP-12) and the seventh meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Stockholm Convention (SC COP-7). The meetings included joint sessions among two or three of the conferences of the parties on joint issues. The theme for the meetings of the conferences of the parties to the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm conventions was ‘From science to action, working for a safer tomorrow’.

In many countries, there are general provisions that do not allow the use or importation of any chemical that is not registered or approved. India should adopt such provisions and consider applying them to white chrysotile asbestos.  

Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI) is a collective of researchers and social workers working for environmental and occupational health justice in general and for elimination of asbestos of all kinds from trade and use. It is struggling for just compensation for victims of primary and secondary exposure, decontamination of asbestos laden buildings and products and advocating adoption of non-hazardous alternatives to killer fibers of asbestos. It isn’t structurally associated with the transnational alliances working for asbestos free world. It is involved in struggling for a safe working and living conditions for workers in the asbestos based industries, ship breaking industry, construction industry, defence industry and other businesses. BANI’s work is independent public interest research and advocacy work with grass root organizations for safeguarding health of present and future generations.

BANI demands strict implementation of occupational health surveillance scheme through pre employment health examination and periodic health examination in industries where is possibility of exposure to airborne asbestos. Such scheme for health surveillance must include exposure data at each pertinent work place, periodical examination of workers, X-ray examination for radiological changes, lung function test for restrictive disorder and clinical examination for early detection of signs of asbestosis. These tests must be recorded for pre-employment, periodic surveillance and at cessation of employment. Occupational health surveillance must be carried out by occupational physician or chest physician trained in occupational medicine. The occupational health surveillance program must be drawn for all the employees potentially exposed to asbestos dust and it is to be provided free of cost.

BANI demands maintenance and storage of medical records for period of 15 years following the termination of employment or for 40 years after first day of employment, whichever is later by employers, government agencies and workers organizations. The medical records must be maintained covering the details of pre-employment examination, the periodical medical examinations, medical examination done at other times, if any and the medical examinations conducted at cessation of employment and further follow-up examinations, where done.

BANI demands that individual employees’ occupational exposure profile to asbestos, specific work practices, and preventive measures including plan for management of asbestos related diseases prescribed must be recorded.

BANI will continue to work for the inclusion of white chrysotile asbestos in the UN list. Its efforts have led to inclusion of asbestos in the Inventory of Hazardous Chemicals Import in India and inclusion of Waste Asbestos (Dust and Fibers) in the list of Hazardous Wastes Prohibited for Import and Export under Schedule VI of Hazardous Wastes (Management, Handling and Transboundary Movement) Rules, 2008 under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. Its efforts led to the finding that 16 % workers in the shipbreaking industry occupationally exposed to asbestos.

Notably, “Buying asbestos is buying akin to buying cancer. I will get asbestos removed from my residence. The ache of asbestos hazards is worse than the ache of unemployment” said Awadesh Narain Singh, Chairman, Bihar Legislative Council, in a speech available on www.youtube.com
The Report of Working Group on Occupational Safety and Health, Xth Five Year Plan, Planning Commission observed that the workers are also exposed to a host of hazardous substances, which have a potential to cause serious occupational diseases such as asbestosis. It revealed substantial prevalence of occupational health disorders amongst the workers such as Asbestosis. The prevalence rate for Asbestosis was reported to be 7.25%.
The Vision Statement of Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change recommends phase out of chrysotile asbestos saying, "Alternatives to asbestos may be used to the extent possible and use of asbestos may be phased out."

The Concept Paper of Union Ministry of Labour presented at Fifth India-EU Seminar states, “The Government of India is considering the ban the mining and use of chrysotile asbestos in India to protect the workers and the general population against primary and secondary exposure to Chrysotile form of Asbestos.”
Under Indian Factories Act, 1948, the List of 29 industries involving hazardous processes is given under Section 2 (cb), Schedule First, asbestos is mentioned at serial no. 24. The Act defines "hazardous process" as "any process or activity in relation to an industry specified in the First Schedule where, unless special care is taken, raw materials used therein or the intermediate or finished products, bye-products, wastes or effluents thereof would--(i) cause material impairment to the health of the persons engaged in or connected therewith, or (ii) result in the pollution of the general environment". This leaves no doubt that asbestos is a hazardous substance.

Irrespective of the outcome of the CoP 7 given the fact that domestic laws are intact, it is high time Prime Minister intervened to ensure that Union Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers and Union Ministry of Commerce and Industry are not overwhelmed by Asbestos Cement Products Manufacturers Association, a so-called not for profit organization, involved in persuading government representatives to give priority to the profit of the indefensible asbestos industry and to undermine public health concerns of present and future generations.

As usual the working language for the UN conference was Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish. BANI demands that documents related to hazardous substances, whose exposure entails matters of life and death must be made available in Indian languages as well for greater public awareness, participation and action.

For Details: Gopal Krishna, Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI)-ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA), Mb: 08227816731, 09818089660, E-mail-1715krishna@gmail.com, Blog:banasbestosindia.blogspot.in Web: www.toxicswatch.org

Prime Minister should ensure that Indian government officials do not get subordinated by asbestos industry at UN meet underway in Geneva

Written By Gopal Krishna on Thursday, May 14, 2015 | 3:50 AM

UN Meet on hazardous substances concludes on May 15 

Making India rife with asbestos related diseases, a sad legacy for Make in India slogan

Indian opposition to listing of white chrysotile asbestos in UN hazardous substances list would be contrary to its domestic laws and regulations 

Opposition to listing of white chrysotile asbestos in UN hazardous substances list untenable, unscientific, unsound, unsustainable, unacceptable and unpardonable Press Release  

May 14, 2015: ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA) appeals to the Prime Minister Narendra Modi to ensure that Indian government officials do not get subordinated by representatives of Asbestos Cement Product Manufacturers Association (ACPMA), a cartel of some 18 companies and its international allies for the fifth time at the Seventh Conference of UN’s Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade (CoP-7) in deciding to get white chrysotile asbestos listed under UN list of hazardous substances. Contrary to the misinformation campaign and propaganda war unleashed by asbestos producing countries like Russia and Kazakhstan, mere listing of white asbestos chrysotile does not constitute a trade ban. Indian delegation should be directed to act with the knowledge that listing it under the Convention does not constitute a trade ban on white chrysotile asbestos.

Under the influence of white chrysotile asbestos producing countries like Russia, if India opposes listing of white chrysotile asbestos in UN list would be in blatant violation of its domestic laws and regulations like Factories Act, 1948. In short, if Government of India takes such position, it will be deemed untenable, unscientific, unsound, unsustainable, unacceptable and unpardonable for all times to come among the comity of nations and amidst own people. Indian delegation should pay heed to the resolutions and recommendations of World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Labour Organization (ILO) instead of allowing itself to be hijacked by accompanying members of ACPMA. It will be a shame if the Indian delegation betrays the cause of public health and national interest to safeguard the interest of the ACPMA.

Indian delegation should re-adopt its 2011 position on white chrysotile asbestos when Mira Mehrshi led the Indian delegation and resisted the influence and presence of asbestos industry lobby amidst standing ovation. It is hoped that Shashi Shekhar, the head of Hazardous Substances Management Division, MoEF, Government of India will restore India's prestige by re-adopting a scientifically and legally defensible position.  Shashi Shekhar who also heads the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB)’s INVENTORY OF HAZARDOUS CHEMICALS IMPORT IN INDIA prepared by CPCB, under Union Ministry of Environment & Forests, Government of India that lists 'asbestos' at serial no. 26 as one of the 180 hazardous chemicals in international trade which is imported in India.

Under Factories Act, 1948, the List of 29 industries involving hazardous processes is given under Section 2 (cb), Schedule First, asbestos is mentioned at serial no. 24. The Act defines "hazardous process" as "any process or activity in relation to an industry specified in the First Schedule where, unless special care is taken, raw materials used therein or the intermediate or finished products, bye-products, wastes or effluents thereof would--(i) cause material impairment to the health of the persons engaged in or connected therewith, or (ii) result in the pollution of the general environment". This leaves no doubt that asbestos is a hazardous substance.

The Act is available at:

A letter of B N Mehta, the then Chief Inspector of Factories, Gujarat State dated December 24th, 2002 submitted in the Hon'ble Supreme Court categorically reveals that two workers of Gujarat Composites Ltd were confirmed for Asbestosis, an incurable lung disease by National Institute of Occupational Health (NIOH), Ahmedabad. The workers were (1) Shri Hazarilal Manraj and (2) Shri Sahejram B Yadav. The letter recommended compensation of Rs 1 lakh as per the Hon'ble Court's order but till date the same has not been given. This establishes the hazardous nature of asbestos. The letter is available at https://twitter.com/krishna1715/status/503824823747751936

It must be recalled that on June 22, 2011 Indian delegation led by Ms. Mira Mehrishi, Additional Secretary, had supported the listing ofChrysotile asbestos as a hazardous chemical substance at the fifth conference on Rotterdam Convention (COP-5) amidst standing ovation. Not surprisingly, Mira Mehrishi’s reputation remains impeccable with unblemished track record.

For a government which has adopted the slogan of “Make in India”, endorsement of asbestos like products would be a glaring taint because it ends up making India with the blood money of white chrysotile asbestos manufacturers. It will tarnish its image by end up making India rife with asbestos related diseases, a sad legacy for slogan Make in India.    

It tantamounts to sacrificing public health in order to support the ideology of naked lust for profit espoused by unscrupulous white chrysotile asbestos companies at any human cost. In effect, India would be seen taking an irrational position arguing that it does not wish to be informed about the hazardous nature of substances it imports and does not wish to inform about it to the countries which export asbestos based goods from India. This also means that India is becoming complicit in the violation of human rights by knowingly doing business in hazardous substances like white chrysotile asbestos as per its own law. 

It is hoped even at this late stage that India will disassociate itself from the influence of white chrysotile asbestos producing companies and countries after examining the finding of the Contact Group set up by the President of the Conference of the Parties to achieve a consensus to list while chrysotile asbestos in the UN’s Prior Informed Consent (PIC) list-Annex III of the Rotterdam Convention. Chemical Review Committee (CRC) of the Convention has recommended its listing in view of compelling scientific and medical evidence.

It is noteworthy that when the attached joint letter dated May 3, 2015 was sent to Prakash Javdekar, Union Minister of Environment, Forests & Climate Change and Ananth Kumar, Union Minister of Chemicals and Fertilizers, the former responded with alacrity and put his acknowledgement of reasons for disassociating with asbestos producing countries like Russia on record. The fact remains Union Minister of Chemicals and Fertilizers did not respond although Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers is the Focal Point for Rotterdam Convention. It is also a fact that Indian delegation was misled in 2013 by an irrelevant and conflict of interest ridden note of this very Ministry. Notably, Indian delegation was joined by supporters of asbestos industry in 2013. It is quite apparent that the industry representatives overwhelmed the government representatives who were made to take position against human health and the environment and to put profit of the asbestos industry before gnawing public health concerns.

When ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA) had confronted MoEF with domestic laws in 2013, the officials from MoEF expressed helplessness as they were bound by the attached note of the Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers. Hopefully, the structural compulsions of inter-ministerial coordination will be overcome this time to outwit the designs of ACPMA to subjugate the Indian delegation to its whims in fancies.

Notably, India's National Human Rights Commission is deeply concerned about the issue and is seized with case dealing with deaths and diseases caused by exposure asbestos fibers.

Indian history remembers such examples of notorious, timid, weak, pliable, gullible and docile individuals with unfailing memory.  It’s a conflict between truth and profit.  A poison is a poison. A hazardous substance will remain a hazardous substance irrespective the outcome of the UN meeting that concludes on May 15, 2015 but the Indian delegation will stand exposed for compromising India’s stature and its scientific reputation.

White chrysotile asbestos is banned in over 50 countries because it’s safe and controlled use is impossible. In countries like India there is almost no health infrastructure to even diagnose the incurable diseases caused by exposure to its fibers. There is lack of lab facilities which can detect its presence in buildings and products in a situation where there is not a single building India which can claim to be asbestos free. It’s listing in the UN list merely a preliminary preventive step.

For Details: Gopal Krishna, Ban Asbestos Network of India-ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA), Mb: 08227816731, 09818089660, E-mail-1715krishna@gmail.com, Web: www.toxicswatch.org
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