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Ignoring Supreme Court’s directions and medical evidence, following ACPMA’s impleadment, NHRC refrains from banning killer fibers of asbestos

Written By Gopal Krishna on Thursday, November 24, 2016 | 8:31 PM

Briefing Statement

NHRC disregards its own order against asbestos roofs, gets persuaded by a conflict of interest ridden study 

Ignoring Supreme Court’s directions and medical evidence, following ACPMA’s impleadment, NHRC refrains from banning killer fibers of asbestos

India has banned asbestos mining and trade in asbestos waste but continues to import asbestos from Russia, Brazil, Kazakhstan and China

NHRC reveals “India may not support the inclusion of Chrysotile in Annexure-III at the next COP Meeting” of Rotterdam Convention disregarding domestic law that makes asbestos a hazardous substance 

Ignoring gnawing public health hazard and its order about the harmful effect of asbestos, "NHRC has refrained from prohibiting use of killer mineral fibers of white asbestos.  The order in Case No.2951/30/0/2011 filed by ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA) is available on NHRC’s website.

The Commission appears to have committed a grave error by merely reproducing the submission of one Assistant Industrial Advisor, Ministry of Chemicals & Fertilizers, Department of Chemicals and Petrochemicals as part of its “Directions”.  

NHRC has ignored its own order in Case No.693/30/97-98. The order is available on NHRC’s website. In this case NHRC’s direction reads: “Replace the asbestos sheets roofing with roofing made up of some other material that would not be harmful to inmates.”NHRC has already decided that asbestos harmful to human health.  It is evident that the NHRC considers asbestos sheets as harmful.   It is noteworthy that asbestos fibers used for making asbestos based products like asbestos cement roofs etc is a ticking time bomb for lungs which causes preventable but incurable diseases and deaths.

NHRC has ignored its own statement dated June 5th, 2012, NHRC wrote, “The Commission had asked them (the central and state authorities) to share with it the information on the action taken by them with regard to the Supreme Court judgment dated the 21st January, 2011 in Writ Petition (Civil) No. 260 of 2004 on exposure to asbestos.” It further wrote, “The Commission, while seeking their responses, had particularly drawn their attention the Supreme Court directions with regard to Para 16 of the Writ Petition, which are as follows: a) Ministry of Labour in the Union of India and Department of Industries and Labour in all the State Government shall ensure that the directions contained in the judgment of this Court in the case of Consumer Education and Research Centre (supra) are strictly adhered to; b) In terms of the above judgment of this Court as well as reasons stated in this judgment, we hereby direct the Union of India and the States to review safeguards in relation to primary as well as secondary exposure to asbestos keeping in mind the information supplied by the respective States in furtherance to the earlier judgment as well as fresh resolution passed by the ILO.” NHRC’s statement is available at: http://nhrc.nic.in/disparchive.asp?fno=2576

NHRC has ignored the decision of Kerala Human Rights Commission dated January 31, 2009 with the following recommendations: a) The State Government will replace asbestos roofs of all school buildings under its control with country tiles in a phased manner. b) The Government will take steps to see that the schools run under the private management also replace the asbestos roofs with country tiles by fixing a time frame. c) The Government should see that in future no new school is allowed to commence its functions with asbestos roofs.

It is noteworthy that “Asbestos poisoning” was highlighted in a meeting of the Core Group of NGOs that discussed Right to Environment which was held in the Commission on September 12, 2007, under the chairmanship of Justice Shri Y. Bhaskar Rao, Member NHRC.  

NHRC has ignored Supreme Court's order dated January 27, 1995 and recommendation of World Health Organisation (WHO)'s outline for the Development of National Programmes for elimination of asbestos related diseases' make a case for stopping all asbestos based products to prevent the imminent public health crisis as a consequence of which more than 55 countries have banned all forms of asbestos. The Hon'ble Court's order is available at https://indiankanoon.org/doc/1657323/. This order has been reiterated in 2011 by the Hon'ble Court. The relevant WHO document is available at: http://www.who.int/occupational_health/publications/asbestosrelateddiseases.pdf

NHRC has ignored, Vision Statement on Environment and Human Health (Para 4.3.1) of Union Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change that reads: “Alternatives to asbestos may be used to the extent possible and use of asbestos may be phased out”. (Reference:http://moef.nic.in/divisions/cpoll/envhealth/visenvhealth.pdf)

NHRC has ignored that so far some 48 countries have banned asbestos as of November 2016. These countries are : Germany, Chile, Argentina, South Africa, France, Australia, Norway, Spain, Belgium, United Kingdom, Israel, Turkey, Mauritius, Denmark, Ireland, Mozambique, Seychelles, Egypt, Netherlands, Slovakia, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Bahrain and Jordan, Gabon, South Korea, New Caledonia, Slovenia, Austria, Finland, Sweden, Brunei, Oman, Kuwait, Poland, Switzerland, Bulgaria, Gibraltar, Latvia, Portugal, Greece, Estonia, Lithuania, Qatar, Croatia, Honduras, Luxembourg, Romania, Uruguay, Cyprus, Hungary, Malta, Saudi Arabia, Czech Republic, Iceland, Serbia and Algeria.

NHRC has ignored that Dow Chemicals Company has set aside $2.2 billion in compensation fund to address future asbestos-related liabilities arising out of acquisition of Union Carbide Corporation and its Indian investments in 1999. Many manufacturers of asbestos-containing products have gone bankrupt in USA as a result of asbestos litigation.

NHRC has ignored the reply to NHRC dated May 29, 2012, Joint Secretary, Government of Uttarakhand in Case No.2951/30/0/2011, has submitted to the NHRC a document Medline Plus Trusted Health Information for You, U.S. National Library of Medicine and the prescription of National Institutes of Health (NIH) highlighting the Treatment stating: “There is no cure. Stopping exposure to asbestos is essential.”

NHRC has ignored the submission of Secretary, Medical Education & Research, Chandigarh Administration which has categorically informed National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) that “a. White Asbestos (Chrysotile Asbestos) is implicated in so many studies with the following diseases:-Mesothelioma (Cancer of Pleura), Lung Cancer, Peritoneal Cancer, Asbestosis, And also consider as cause of following cancers:- Ovarian Cancer, Laryngeal Cancer, Other Cancer b. Diseases are produced in the person involved in Asbestos Industry.”

It states that “No. of cancer deaths due to asbestos requires further large scale study from India”. It informs, “It is definitely harmful material, causing cancer and other related diseases.”

It quotes from Pulmonary Medicine journal saying, “Asbestos is a set of six naturally occurring silicate minerals exploited commercially for their desirable physical properties. However, it has been proved beyond doubt that Asbestos is hazardous to humans. White asbestos has been found to have causal relationship with various diseases like pulmonary asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma leading to deaths of thousands of people every year.” Considering the risk, its use has been banned more than 50 countries including Japan, European Union and Australia and efforts are being made for its prohibition in many countries.

The reply of Chandigarh Administration concludes saying, “Hence, use of white asbestos should be completely banned in India also and the same may be replaced by some safe alternative material.” Chandigarh Administration has realized the public health consequences of exposure to fibers of asbestos.

In a separate reply to NHRC, Assistant Labour Commissioner, Union Territory, Chandigarh has referred to para 16 of the judgment of Hon’ble Supreme Court dated January 21, 2011 passed in Writ Petition (Civil) No.260 of 2004 wherein directions of January 27, 1995 in the Writ Petition (Civil) No. 206 of 1986 is required to be strictly adhered to.  It further states, “In terms of the above judgement of this Court as well as reasons stated in this judgement, we hereby direct the Union of India and States to review safeguards in relation to primary as well as secondary exposure to asbestos keeping in mind the information supplied by the respective States in furtherance to the earlier judgement as well as fresh resolution passed by the ILO. Upon such review, further directions, consistent with law, shall be issued within a period of six months from the date of passing of this order.”  As to ‘fresh resolution passed by the ILO’, it is noteworthy that “A Resolution concerning asbestos was adopted by the International Labour Conference at its 95th Session in 2006. Noting that all forms of asbestos, including chrysotile, are classified as human carcinogens by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), and expressing its concern that workers continue to face serious risks from asbestos exposure, particularly in asbestos removal, demolition, building maintenance, ship breaking and waste handling activities, it calls for: – the elimination of the future use of asbestos and the identification and proper management of asbestos currently in place as the most effective means to protect workers from asbestos exposure and to prevent future asbestos-related diseases and deaths.”  NHRC has ignored it as well.

 Having ignored such glaring and indisputable scientific, medical and judicial findings, Mr. Justice H.L. Dattu headed Commission has issued the following Direction:

“Pursuant to the directions of the Commission, Dr.Rohit Misra, Assistant Industrial Advisor, Ministry of Chemicals & Fertilizers, Deptt. of Chemicals and Petrochemicals, Govt. of India vide letter dated 4th July, 2016 has informed the Commission that in order to take an appropriate and scientific stand in the International Forum on the issue related to health hazards posed by Chrysotile variety of Asbestos, Department of Chemicals and Petrochemicals had entrusted National Institute of Occupational Health (NIOH) to carry out a study on Health Hazards/Environmental Hazards resulting from the use of Chrysotile variety of Asbestos in the country. Later, with the approval of MoS (Ind. Charge) Chemicals & Fertilizers, it was decided to set up an Inter-Ministerial Committee for considering the issue of continuance or otherwise of the use of Chrysotile variety of asbestos in India, taking into account of NIOH report and other related issues. On 27.8.2014, a meeting was held under the Chairmanship of Minister (Chemicals & Fertilizer) to consider the NIOH report. It was decided in the meeting that the NIOH report does not indicate any significant health/environment hazards resulting from the use of Chrysotile asbestos under proper conditions, coupled with the fact that asbestos products are quite cost effective for use by the masses, India may not support the inclusion of Chrysotile in Annexure-III at the COP Meeting in 2015. In the light of the above report, no further action by the Commission is called for. The case is closed.” The Commission concluded on 8th August, 2016.

It is quite bizarre that views of Secretary, Medical Education & Research & Assistant Labour Commissioner, Chandigarh Administration and Joint Secretary, Uttarakhand Government have been disregarded and NHRC allowed itself to be persuaded by views of Assistant Industrial Advisor, Ministry of Chemicals & Fertilizers. It is the same ministry which is dealing with public health disaster caused due to industrial disaster of Bhopal. This ministry’s callousness towards public health concerns due to hazardous chemicals and pesticides is well known. It does not even have the inventory all the chemicals used in the country and a register of its ill effects on human health and environment.  

It is indeed quite strange that NHRC has ignored Union Ministry of Labour’s concept paper that declares, "The Government of India is considering the ban on use of chrysotile asbestos in India to protect the workers and the general population against primary and secondary exposure to Chrysotile form of Asbestos. The Concept paper of the Central Government notes, "Asbestosis is yet another occupational disease of the Lungs which is on an increase under similar circumstances warranting concerted efforts of all stake holders to evolve strategies to curb this menace". (Reference: http://www.labour.nic.in/lc/Background%20note.pdf)

As to NIOH study, while one disagrees with the findings of the conflict of interest ridden study conducted by the National Institute of Occupational Health, (NIOH), it is evident that even this study does not state that chrysotile asbestos is not a hazardous chemical.  Had NIOH study concluded that Chrysotile Asbestos is not a hazardous chemical it may have become relevant. But even then it would have been legally unsustainable because under Indian laws chrysotile asbestos is a hazardous chemical.

NHRC ignored the fact that Union Minister of State for Environment and Forests had informed the Rajya Sabha in a written reply that the study of the health status of the workers and the residents in the vicinity of the asbestos industry by NIOH, Ahmedabad was co-sponsored by the Asbestos Cement Products Manufactures Association (ACPMA). Out of a total of Rs. 59.66 lacs allocated for the study by Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers, the Asbestos Cement Products Manufactures Association has contributed Rs. 16 lacs. Reference: http://pib.nic.in/newsite/erelcontent.aspx?relid=36794

NHRC has ignored that fact that every Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Report of every asbestos based factory itself admits that asbestos is a hazardous substance.  The EIA report is prepared under EIA Notification notified under Environment Protection Act, 1986.   

ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA), the complainant before the NHRC got a reply based on Department of Chemicals and Petrochemicals (DCPC)’s note dated June 18, 2013 from Union Ministry of Environment & Forests (MoEF) on the issue of Government of Indias position on hazardous substance chrysotile asbestos at the Sixth Conference of Parties of (CoP-6) of the Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade held during April 28-May 10, 2013 in Switzerland.

As to NIOH’s role, a perusal of the 7 page long note of the Department of Chemicals and Petrochemicals (DCPC), Union Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers on the subject of Chrysotile Asbestos titled “Department of Chemicals and Petrochemicals View on the use of Chrysotile Asbestos” in the country along with MoEF ‘s letter reveals that the contention of MoEF based DCPC’s note stating that “On the basis of the said note, the listing of Chrysotile Asbestos under Annex -A of Rotterdam Convention at CoP-6 during April 28th -May 10th 2013 at Geneva could not be supported”  was/is misplaced. The note of the “line department”, i.e. Department of Chemicals and Petrochemicals (DCPC), Union Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers on the subject chrysotile asbestos illustrates that it has failed to understand the purpose of the Rotterdam Convention and ignorance about the objective of the Convention.

NHRC has ignored the objective of Article 1 of the Rotterdam Convention which reads: “The objective of this Convention is to promote shared responsibility and cooperative efforts among Parties in the international trade of certain hazardous chemicals in order to protect human health and the environment from potential harm and to contribute to their environmentally sound use, by facilitating information exchange about their characteristics, by providing for a national decision-making process on their import and export and by disseminating these decisions to Parties.”

NHRC has been kept in dark about the  concluding sentence of the DCPC’s note which reads: “In view of the above, India may take a stand in the next CoP meeting of Rotterdam Convention for not inclusion of chrysotile asbestos in Annexure-III of Convention.”

NHRC has ignored the fact that the note is irrelevant from the point of view of the objective of the Convention for which it was prepared.

NHRC has ignored that the NIOH study which has been mentioned was admittedly tainted because of proven conflict of interest and thus its inference was questionable. This was admitted in the Parliament by the Labour Minister and the Environment Minister. The Press Information Bureau (PIB) release with regard to the same is available on its website.

It is submitted that the flawed conclusion of the DCPC’s note titled “Department of Chemicals and Petrochemicals’ View on the use of Chrysotile Asbestos in the country” is based on manifestly flawed reasoning.

NHRC has ignored the fact that at the first meeting, the Chemical Review Committee (CRC) under the Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent (PIC) Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade, the committee agreed to recommend to the Conference of the Parties that Chrysotile Asbestos should be listed in Annex III of the Rotterdam Convention. The CRC is a group of government designated experts established in line with Article 18 of the Convention that evaluates candidate chemicals for possible inclusion in the Convention. Chrysotile (serpentine forms of asbestos) is included in the PIC procedure as an industrial chemical.

NHRC has failed to appreciate that what is poisonous and hazardous within India cannot be deemed non-poisonous and non-hazardous under the unscientific influence of DCPC and Asbestos Cement Products Manufacturers Association (ACPMA) at the conference of Parties of Rotterdam Convention. DCPC’s untenable position is ridiculous.

NHRC has ignored the fact that the Union Ministry of Finance has announcement that asbestos related diseases will be covered under Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana (National Health Insurance Scheme) is an acknowledgement of the fact that asbestos is a health hazard although this is hardly sufficient in the absence of environmental and occupational infrastructure.

NHRC has not been able to get the report of the 13 member- Advisory Committee of Union Ministry of Labour which has been set up to implement Supreme Court’s order. This Advisory Committee is supposed to incorporate the ILO resolution of 2006 in the matter of asbestos as per Supreme Court’s order of 1995 and 2011 under the Chairmanship of Joint Secretary, Union Ministry of Labour but as of November 20, 2016, the Advisory Committee has not submitted its report despite the fact that more than 4 years have passed since it was entrusted the task on January 23, 2012. The ministry is supposed to incorporate specific directions of the Court with regard to fresh ILO Resolution of June 14, 2006 introducing a ban on all mining, manufacture, recycling and use of all forms of asbestos besides WHO‟s resolution of 2005 seeking elimination of future use of asbestos.

NHRC has ignored the approval and the recommendations of the Chemical Review Committee under Rotterdam Convention that has endorsed listing of chrysotile asbestos in the PIC list of hazardous substances.

NHRC has ignored the fact that Government of India’s Environmental Impact Assessment, Guidance Manual for Asbestos Based Industries. The Manual refers to WHO’s “Environmental Health Criteria 203; Chrysotile Asbestos (http://www.who.int/en/)” but fails to incorporate the criteria. Although requirements underlined in the Manual has neither been complied with in the past nor are they being adhered to at the present and it is quite unlikely that it will be done in future, NHRC has failed to apply it mind to such grave situation.

NHRC ignores that the official Inventory of Hazardous Chemicals Import in India lists “Asbestos” at serial no. 26 as one of the 180 hazardous chemicals in international trade which is imported in India. This inventory has been prepared by Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), under Union Ministry of Environment & Forests, Govt. of India.”

NHRC ignores that Schedule I of Hazardous Wastes (Management, Handling and Transboundary Movement) Rules, 2008 under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 provides the List of Processes Generating Hazardous Wastes. The list has 36 processes generating hazardous wastes. It may be noted that Production of Asbestos or Asbestos containing materials which generates Asbestos-containing residues, Discarded Asbestos, Dust/particulates from exhaust gas treatment is at the serial no. 15 in the list.

NHRC has ignored that Schedule VI of Hazardous Wastes (Management, Handling and Transboundary Movement) Rules, 2008 under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 that provides List of Hazardous Wastes Prohibited for Import and Export. The list had 30 such hazardous wastes which are also covered under UN‟s Basel Convention on Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal. The list mentions Waste Asbestos (Dust and Fibers) at serial no. 16 with its Basel No. A2050.

NHRC has ignored that even 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:


NHRC has ignored the findings of Supreme Court constituted High Powered Committee (HPC) headed by Prof. MGK. Menon (by order dated October 13, 1997) for examination of all matters relating to hazardous wastes. The HPC had dealt with issues of asbestos based industries and their wastes. Based on it the Court has passed the landmark order of October 14, 2003 seeking prior decontamination of ships in the country of export before it is allowed in Indian waters. In compliance of this order which established Basel Convention as part of right to life, the end-of-life ships need to be decontaminated of asbestos and asbestos wastes before they are allowed entry in Indian waters.

NHRC has ignored the findings of Supreme Court constituted Technical Experts Committee on Hazardous Wastes relating to Ship-breaking in 2006-7 that had asked National Institute of Occupational Health, (NIOH) to undertake an epidemiological study was planned to find out the magnitude of asbestos related health problems and other disorders among ship breaking workers. The study observed that 15 (16 %) of 94 workers occupationally exposed to asbestos showed linear shadows on chest X-rays, and 26 workers (39%) showed restrictive impairment. But despite Supreme Court’s order dated January 27, 1995 fixing Rs 1 lakh for victims of asbestos related diseases these workers have  not been compensated.

NHRC has ignored the fact that the 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.

NHRC has ignored the fact that on June 22, 2011 Indian delegation led by Ms. Mira Mehrishi, Additional Secretary, had supported the listing of Chrysotile asbestos as a hazardous chemical substance at the fifth meeting on Rotterdam Convention amidst standing ovation.

NHRC ignored the Working Group of a Planning Commission on Occupational Safety and Health for the Xth Five Year Plan at the workplace in its 159 page report dated September 2001, the Working Group which noted 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 has recorded that various studies conducted by the Central Labour Institute have revealed substantial prevalence of occupational health disorders amongst the workers such as Asbestosis. The prevalence rate for Asbestosis was reported to be 7.25%.”

In its report dated August 01, 2011, NHRC provided details of its interventions including Banning use of white asbestos (Case No.2951/30/0/2011), wherein it claimed “The Commission took cognizance of a complaint that about fifty thousand people die every year in the country from asbestos-related cancer. The complainant requested the Commission's intervention to ban chrysotile asbestos (white asbestos), which is used on walls and roofs claiming that it caused various incurable diseases, and that the Government illogically had technically banned the mining of asbestos but allowed its import from countries which do not let it be used domestically.  The Commission issued notices to the Secretaries of the Union Ministries of Chemical & Fertilizers, Environment & Forest, Health & Family Welfare, Industry & Commerce, and Labour and to the Chief Secretaries of all States and Union Territories, calling for reports on the issues raised in the complaint.”

NHRC issued a Press Release dated 6th July, 2011 wherein it observed, “Citing contradictory position of the Government on the issue the complainant Gopal Krishna of Toxics Watch Alliance has alleged that though the mining of Asbestos has been technically banned by the government, but it allows its import and that too from the countries which do not prefer its domestic use.” NHRC release reads: “It is also alleged that white Asbestos is considered a hazardous chemical substance for environment by a number of countries in the world. However, it is being used in a number of industries in India affecting the workers employed their in. The complainant has also requested for grant of a compensation package for present and future victims of Asbestos diseases.” NHRC has failed to appreciate that Russia, the world’s biggest asbestos producer remains India’s biggest supplier of raw asbestos given the fact that India has banned asbestos mining because of its deleterious impact on health. India remains the world’s biggest asbestos importer. India is consuming 15 % of the total world asbestos production, as per US Geological Survey estimates.

It is germane to recall that Asbestos Cement Products Manufacturers Association (ACPMA) had filed a case against TWA and NHRC in Delhi High Court through W.P. (C) 2682/2012 and C.M. No. 5765/2012 “seeking impleadment before the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) is not being actioned while the NHRC is seeking to proceed with its enquiry in respect of allegations which would in fact affects the petitioner and its members.” Following ACPMA’s impleadment, this case was disposed off on 14th May, 2013 after 11 hearings in the High Court.  Justice Rajiv Shakdher May 14, 2013 two page order reads: "The Registrar, NHRC is present in court.After a detailed hearing, counsels for the parties submit that the controversy in this case can be cut short with the petitioner making a request for inspection. It is further agreed that, in case the petitioner requires copies of specific material filed before the Commission, the same would be supplied unless it is already available in public domain. It is ordered accordingly. In so far as the application for impleadment is concerned, I am informed by the learned counsel for the Commission and the learned Registrar that the petitioner has already been given a right to appear before the Commission so as to enable the petitioner to present its case. This is reflected in the Commission’s order dated 15.10.2012. It is, in fact, the grievance of the counsel for respondent no. 1 that the petitioner has not made a representation; though it is contended by Mr Virmani, that the same was not done because the relevant material was not made available to the petitioner. In view of the aforesaid statements of parties, time for making a representation is extended by another six weeks. I am also informed by the counsel for the Commission that the next date of hearing in the matter is fixed on 15.07.2013. Needless to say, as indicated above in terms of the Commission’s order dated 15.10.2012, the petitioner will have the liberty to appear and present its case before the Commission. The writ petition is not pressed any further by the learned counsel for the petitioner. The writ petition is, accordingly, disposed of with the aforesaid statements of the parties on record.” Mr Rajeev K. Virmani was the Senior Advocate who appeared on behalf of ACPMA which claims to be a non-profit organization.  

Prior to this ACPMA had filed an RTI application with NHRC seeking copy of the complaint made before NHRC by TWA. TWA had objected to its disclosure prior to Commission’s verdict but CIC arrived at a decision saying ACPMA “has the right to have a copy of the complaint made by Shri Gopal Krishna of Toxics Watch Alliance against the appellant’s Association more so in view of the fact that they have been directed to appear before the Commission on 31.12.2012 to present their case” although this was contrary to decision of the NHRC adopted in the meeting pertaining to Administrative Business held on 15.12.2009 held:  “that copies of reports on specific complaints submitted by the investigation team of the Commission or by Commission’s authorized representatives or received from the Government or other authorities may be supplied under the RTI only after final order is passed in the case”.

In February 2016, Justice Dattu began serving as the chairperson of the NHRC. Prior to him Justice K G Balakrishnan and Justice Cyriac Joseph headed the Commission that looked in to the issue of banning use of White Asbestos. It appears that concerned institutions got intimidated by the influence of asbestos industry through its non profit NGO, ACPMA. The “Direction” of NHRC is a setback to public health amidst epidemic of asbestos related diseases.  

For Details: Gopal Krishna, Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI)/ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA), Mb: 09818089660, 08227816731, Email: 1715krishna@gmail.com, Web: http://www.asbestosfreeindia.org, www.toxicswatch.org

Revealed Maersk’s murky deals promote waste imperialism and lobbying for proposed regressive Hong Kong Convention

Written By Gopal Krishna on Friday, November 04, 2016 | 5:01 AM

ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA)

Shri Mukul Roy
Parliamentary Standing Committee (PSC) on Transport, Tourism and Culture 
Parliament of India
New Delhi

Through Shri Swarabji. B., Director, PSC on Transport, Tourism and Culture

Subject- Revealed Maersk’s murky deals promote waste imperialism and lobbying for proposed regressive Hong Kong Convention

This is to draw your immediate attention towards the violation of Indian laws, Basel Convention by two end-of-life ships namely, Maersk Georgia and Maersk Wyoming and the recent report of DanWatch (October, 2016) about the conditions at Alang beach, Bhavnagar, Gujarat. Maersk is the world’s biggest ship owning company based in Denmark.
The report emerged out of the collaborative investigation by DanWatch, the daily newspaper Politiken and broadcaster TV 2.
We submit that both these ships are in violation of Hon’ble Supreme Court’s order and the Shipbreaking Code. Hon’ble Court has upheld UN’s Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal. The implication of this direction is that all the ships which are entering the Indian territorial waters have to show compliance of Hon’ble Court’s order seeking prior decontamination of the ship in the country of export. In case there is non-compliance, all these ships should go back to country of origin. Hon’ble Court has categorically said in its order of July 2012 that all Ships coming for dismantling have to follow Basel Convention and if there is any violation, action should be taken according to the Municipal Laws.
We wish to draw your attention towards the 15 page judgment of Hon’ble Court dated July 30, 2012 in the matter of end of life US ship Exxon Valdez. Hon’ble Court conclusively directed that "...in all  future cases of a similar nature, the concerned authorities shall  strictly comply with the norms laid down in the Basel Convention or any other subsequent provisions that may be adopted by the Central  Government in aid of a clean and pollution free maritime environment,  before permitting entry of any vessel suspected to be carrying toxic  and hazardous material into Indian territorial waters."
The July 30, 2012 judgment reads: "Such relief would, of course, be subject to compliance with all the formalities as required by the judgments and orders passed by this Court on 14th October, 2003, 6th September, 2007 and 11th September, 2007 in the Writ Petition."
The fact is Hon'ble Court order of October 14, 2003 reads: "At the international level, India should participate in international meetings on ship-breaking at the level of the International Maritime Organisation and the Basel Convention’s Technical Working Group with a clear mandate for the decontamination of ships of their hazardous substances such as asbestos, waste oil, gas and PCBs, prior to export to India for breaking. Participation should include from Central and State level.”
We submit that the report of Danwatch et al underline the dubious practices of Maersk in the sale of 14 ships for dismantling on the beaches of Bangladesh and India. ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA) has learnt that these reports have been broadcasted and published on TV2 and Politiken respectively besides its dissemination by others in the media.
We wish to inform you that drawing on DanWatch findings a Brussels based group NGO Platform on Shipbreaking has disclosed that in late 2013, Maersk sought early termination of a charter party for 14 ships due to the vessels’ poor rentability and the general overcapacity in the container ship market. Maersk had previously been the owner of the vessels before they sold them to a finance construct in Germany, MPC Flottenfonds III, in 2009. Maersk then continued operating them based on a long-term charter. In 2014, the Platform investigated that the 14 vessels operated by Maersk had ended up in some of the worst shipbreaking yards in Bangladesh and India.
It has been revealed that Maersk’s addendum to the charter contract explicitly asked the German owner through a clause in the contract to ensure the immediate demolition of the vessels in order to get them off the market. Maersk demanded in another clause that the vessels had to be sold for the highest price available on the scrap market – without any consideration of environmental or social standards. Maersk put pressure on the ship fund to sell the 14 vessels for a minimum price of 447 USD per ton, a price that corresponded at the time to the prices offered in South Asian beaching yards. No facility operating under safe and sound conditions would have been able to pay such a high price.
Besides this the contract between Maersk and MPC states that if MPC were to sell the vessels for a lower price, Maersk would have to pay the difference and if MPC managed to sell for a higher price, it was under an obligation to pay Maersk the difference in profit earned.
We submit that revelations in the Danish media about Maersk’s dubious deals shows that unlike in the past Danish Government has not been acting to ensure compliance with Basel Convention.
We submit that Maersk did a volte face and has continued in a business as usual manner of contaminating Alang beach.
We submit that Maersk plans to transfer some five dozen ships to the beaching yards in South Asian waters by disassociating itself from its off-the-beach policy.
We submit that in manifest violation of existing international law and national laws, Shree Ram company received a Statement of Compliance with the Hong Kong Convention (which is yet to come into force) from the Japanese classification society ClassNK in December 2015.
We submit that in a public relations exercise Maersk invited international and Danish journalists to a tour of the Alang shipbreaking yards in the last week of September 2016.  Prior to this European Community of Shipowners’ Associations (ECSA) too had organized a visit for selected EU Member State representatives and national ship owners’ associations to Alang. Both these visits ensured that civil society and independent persons do not witness the ongoing poisoning of Alang beach.
We submit that comprehensive report based on site visit inside Shree Ram shipbreaking yard in Alang shows that Hon’ble Court’s order and Code has been violated with impunity. The report shows how the inter-state migrant workers from states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and Odisha are exposed to hazardous risks in the process of dismantling of ships in the ecologically fragile coastal zone.
We submit that Gujarat Maritime Board and Gujarat Pollution Control Board is complicit in allowing Maersk to promote environme3ntally damaging beaching method, which has been abandoned by Europe, the US and China.
We submit that the committee should examine the practices of Maersk and its competitors like Hapag Lloyd, Wilhelmsen, Wallenius, Hoegh, Grieg, CSL and Royal Dutch Boskalis.
We submit that contrary to the claims of Maersk and Shree Ram most of the vessels being dismantled are contaminating the beach sand and water because containment of pollution is impossible on a beach.
We submit that the recent report reveals that workers face grave enviro-occupational health hazards and unsafe working environment. The workers who employed at Shree Ram and who involved in the demolition of the Maersk Georgia and the Maersk Wyoming do not have any contract or any written document regarding their employment.
We submit that workers in Alang do not have proper housing, sanitation facility and hospital for severe injuries.
TWA deprecates efforts by Maersk and other European agencies besides other ship owners to act as if Hong Kong Convention on Ship Recycling is a fait accompli although it is unlikely to come into force. This Convention is anti-India, anti-environment and anti-worker.
We submit that the story of the entry of these Danish ships is just the tip of the iceberg. This ship of US origin is treading the questionable path of infamous ships whose questionable entry was fought legally. These ships include RIKY (ex-Kong Frederik IX, which entered on a flag of a country named ROXA which does not exist), Le Clemenceau, SS Blue Lady (ex- SS France, SS Norway), Platinum II (ex- SS Oceanic, SS Independence) and Exxon Valdez (renamed Oriental Nicety) and others. It may be recalled that Shree Ram was involved in the Le Clemenceau case where it was proven wrong.
We submit that the dead vessel contains hazardous materials, making its final voyage from the Europe to India illegal waste trafficking under the Basel Convention, which controls the transboundary movements of hazardous wastes. These vessels contain polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and asbestos like hazardous substances.
We submit that given the fact that both Denmark and India are Parties to the Basel Convention, both have failed to fulfill their responsibility and their clear legal obligations and have endorsed the environmental injustice of free global trade in toxic waste.
We submit that the hazardous waste management costs and occupational health safety costs of the dead ships in question would have been significant in the Europle, perhaps even higher than the value of scrap metals contained in the vessel, especially with commodity prices so low. Hazardous waste management costs are not an important consideration at the beach breaking facilities on Alang beach, Bhvanagar, Gujarat. Hazardous waste streams, PCBs in particular, aren't treated or disposed of with the necessary care, hence a cost savings at the expense of environmental and human health. Asbestos-containing materials are even being resold for further use although asbestos is banned in over 50 countries and Government of India too has announced that it is considering to imposition of ban on the killer mineral fibers of asbestos because it is impossible to use it safely and in a controlled manner.
We submit that it should not be forgotten that under the watch of DG Shipping and Indian Coast Guard Danish ship RIKY had entered Indian waters during Shri A Raja years. Till date institutional accountability for allowing the entry of this dubious ship has not been fixed.
We submit that waste follows the path of least resistance. Unlike governments in Europe which have maintained a policy that requires protection of its beaches, Government of India has been offering it’s ecologically cherished and biodiversity rich beaches for end-of-life ships to richer countries. These Governments allows their private ship-owners to legally reflag their vessels for disposal on foreign beaches like the ones in Alang, Gujarat.
We submit that our Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC) on Shipbreaking since its creation in 2004 in compliance with the order of Hon’ble Supreme Court dated October 14, 2003 till its replacement without intimating the Hon’ble Court made several recommendations for remedial measures.
We submit that both the MAESRK ships are violating the Shipbreaking Code 2013 which has been prepared in compliance with Court’s order of 6th September, 2007 states at clause 8.3.6 that “In the event of any question arising out of the interpretation of any of the clauses of the regulations, the decision of the Ministry of Shipping shall be final.” It is noteworthy that prior to the notification of the Code in the Gazette on 7th March, 2013, the subject matter of ship breaking was with the Union Ministry of Steel as per the list of subjects allocated to the Ministry of Steel, under the Government of India (Allocation of Business) Rules, 1961 given the fact that the shipbreaking is admittedly an exercise in secondary steel production.
We wish to draw your attention towards an affidavit filed in the Hon’ble Supreme Court on July 16, 2012 by Shri Sugandh Shripad Gadkar, Deputy Director General (Technical), Directorate General of Shipping, Mumbai wherein he stated that the Union Ministry of Shipping “does not come in picture” in the matter of shipbreaking. The affidavit was filed in the Writ Petition (Civil) No.657 of 1995. It is in this very petition that the Hon’ble Court gave the direction for creation of a Shipbreaking Code. The core question is if the Ministry of Shipping “does not come in picture” till July 16, 2012, which internal and external forces have brought it in the picture now.
We demand a parliamentary inquiry into the circumstances which led to this decision because issues of shipbreaking are also linked to issues of maritime and national security as has been recorded repeatedly in the minutes of the IMC.
We submit that Union Ministry of Shipping has informed the Rajya Sabha about its failure to get “Different type of dangerous and Hazardous goods” lying at different ports from different dates starting from March 1983 removed. In a specific case of containers of “Methyl Monomer” lying at New Mangalore port, it was stated that it is there because of “Inadequate storage space in the factory premises of M/s BASF, Mangalore”, the importer. BASF is the world's largest producer of acrylic monomer. BASF is the largest chemical company in the world and is headquartered in Germany. Is it convincing that such a company has “Inadequate storage space in the factory premises”?
In such a situation the decision of transferring decision making with regard to shipbreaking to a ministry which has admittedly failed to save country’s coastal environment from “Different type of dangerous and Hazardous goods” is highly questionable.
We submit that there is a strong apprehension that lobbies from Europe and countries like USA and Japan have been at work to make Ministry of Shipping the focal point for ship breaking/recycling because the Ministry in question and Gujarat Maritime Board (GMB) appear to have been persuaded to support International Maritime Organisation (IMO)’s anti-environment and anti-worker Hong Kong Convention on Ship Recycling which is unlikely to come into force. It has come to light that an ex-employee of IMO who was involved in promotion of the questionable text of the Hong Kong Convention is now working with a US based company owned by a person of Gujarati origin, visited concerned government officials in Mumbai and New Delhi in the third week of November 2015 and was present in an official meeting without any locus. 
The fact is that Hong Kong Convention is a text which has been prepared under the influence of rich ship owning countries and their companies is meant to sabotage Basel Convention. These transnational companies who are attempting to escape their decontamination and environmental and occupational healthy safety costs in their own countries have already succeeded in diluting the European regulation with regard to end-of-life ships. Now they are working to formalize the dilutions that they have achieved in terms of enforcement of pre-existing regulations created on the lines of Basel Convention through repeated attempts to create precedents for transfer of their dead ships without prior-decontamination in the country of export. The case of Maersk ships is part of that game plan.      
We submit that the text of Hong Kong Convention which was adopted by the IMO in May 2009 fails to prevent the transboundary movement of hazardous wastes found within end-of-life ships and is insensitive towards human rights and environmental damages caused by shipbreaking yards on the Alang beach in Gujarat. Similar situations exist with regard to ship breaking yards in Bangladesh and Pakistan.
The text fails to incorporate the letter and spirit of the Basel Convention with requirements for other forms of toxic waste. The text fails to reflect Basel Convention’s core obligation - minimisation of transboundary movements of hazardous waste. It fails to outlaw flawed method of breaking ships by “beaching” them in fragile ecosystem to cut and split the ships wide open on tidal flats. The containment of oil and toxic contaminants is not possible. These toxins enter the marine environment. Such working space cannot safely use cranes alongside ships to lift heavy cut pieces or to rescue workers or to bring emergency equipment (ambulances, fire trucks) to the workers or the ships.
We submit that the text of the Hong Kong Convention cremates the Polluter Pays/Producer Responsibility Principle, Environmental Justice Principle, Waste Prevention/Substitution Principles and Principle of National Self Sufficiency in Waste Management.
Therefore, there is a compelling logic for India to strictly adhere to Basel Convention that covers the recycling and disposal to final disposition, the text of the Hong Kong Convention stops at the gate of the ship recycling yard. It means that the most hazardous substances such as PCBs and asbestos, once removed from the ship is not be covered by this text.
In effect, this constitutes weakening of existing international legal regulations against exploitation of migrant workers and the coastal environment by the global shipping industry at the end of the life of a ship.
We submit that most harmful hazardous materials from the dead ships will enter Indian territories via a recycling yard. It is an escape route from the Basel Convention. If they succeed it will burden present and future generations with a toxic legacy.
We submit that the text of Hong Kong Convention fails to ensure the fundamental principle of “Prior Informed Consent”. In this Convention ‘reporting’ takes place only after the hazardous waste ship arrives in the importing country’s territory that a competent authority has the right to object and the objection allowed is not to the importation but to the ship recycling plan or ship recycling facility permit. Thus, India is being forced to receive toxic waste in the form of ships which can become abandoned and for which their importation cannot be remedied by any right of return. 
We submit that International shipping industry is so powerful an industry that it succeeded in their task of shipbreaking transferred from Ministry of Steel to more amenable Ministry of Shipping to do their bidding by ratifying the text of the Hong Kong Convention. It will create a far weaker set of rules for their advantage and establishes a very unhealthy precedent in international law and policy. It is a regressive step with respect to international governance, protection of human rights and the environment. Having succeeded in Paris and Nairobi negotiations on climate and trade, the richer countries like USA are obstinately pursuing the path of undermining Basel Convention from maintaining its legal competency over toxic end-of-life ships. These commercial czars are resisting adoption of green design for ships.
We submit that the main concern is that Maersk ships are end of life ships and the entire ship itself is hazardous waste which is regulated under Basel Convention as it is embedded with asbestos waste, cables containing PCT, heavy metals, paint chips etc. It is noteworthy that Basel Convention is related to the control of trans-boundary movements of hazardous waste and their disposal. Notably, ships destined for ship-breaking operations are "hazardous wastes" under the Convention.
We submit that Maersk is yet another test case that will demonstrate whether or not Government is allowing India to bear the burden of the world’s ship-borne toxic wastes under the influence of ship owners and ship owning countries that deploy all the dirty tricks including linguistic corruption to continue to externalize the real costs and liabilities of ships at end-of-life.
As per Ship Breaking Code 2013, “All ships entering Indian Maritime Zones are required to inform Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC). The prior information to Port shall also include that the ship, as it enters Indian Search and Rescue Region (ISRR) should pass its information to MRCC/Indian Coast Guard stating that it is bound for Recycling Yards for ship recycling.” The committee should examine the circumstances that led to anchoring and beaching of these Danish ships in violation of every rule in the rule book. 

As per this Code, after intimating Expected Time of Arrival, the ship owner or recycler shall submit the following information/documents 3 weeks before the expected arrival of the ship for recycling for a desk review by the State Maritime Board/Port Authority, State Pollution Control Board and the Customs Department and pay port charges for obtaining permission for the ship to enter the port. It is also relevant to note that as per the Code, “Directorate of Shipping in consultation with Coast Guards Department shall verify the genuineness of the documents submitted by the ship owner or recycler at the desk review stage on the request of SMB/Ports Authority of the State and if it is found that any document is fake or conceal any material fact, ship owner/recycler shall be informed of denial of permission to the ship entering Indian waters.”

We submit that Government of India should be held accountable for its colossal failure. It has failed to communicate unequivocally to the enemies of Basel Convention to “Keep your own waste” in order to be eco-friendly. Our country has enough of its own waste. It does not need its dumping in myriad disguises by rich countries. Had regulatory agencies been competent to manage our own waste there would have been no need for a “Swachh Bharat Mission (Clean India Mission)”.  
We seek your intervention to ensure that India does not become a dumping ground. Maersk is acting as if rule of law is irrelevant for its operations in India. It is setting a very bad and unhealthy precedent and opening the gates for dumping of hundreds of hazardous dead toxic ships in Indian waters.

It is evident that Government of India is not offering resistance to dumping of wastes because concerned ministers and officials are hand in glove with the hazardous waste traders. There is documentary evidence in this regard. The movement of hazardous waste in the physical space and in the policy space is quite explicit. The domestic rules for regulation of hazardous wastes like end-of-life ships has been framed, reframed, amended and diluted to offer a regime of free trade in hazardous waste to international shipping companies and recyclers. The violation of these rules has been underway for quite some time due to deliberate lack of coordination between central ministries of defense, commerce, finance, shipping, steel, and environment, forests and climate change.  In effect, country’s sovereignty is being compromised undermining its security ecosystem.

We submit that enemies of UN’s Basel Convention on Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal are having a field day due to complicity of ministers and officials of questionable integrity. This merits parliamentary inquiry as well. 
ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA) has been working on the issue of hazardous wastes and ship breaking for over decade. It has been an invitee and participant in the UN Conventions. It is an applicant before the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). It has appeared before the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science, Technology, Environment & Forests, Parliamentary Petitions Committee, Parliamentary Standing Committee on Food, Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution Parliamentary Standing Committee on Labour and relevant UN agencies besides Inter-Ministerial Committee on Ship breaking. It was the applicant before Hon’ble Supreme Court wherein the order for creation of the Shipbreaking Code was passed. TWA had appeared before the Hon'ble Court’s Monitoring Committee on Hazardous Wastes, Court’s Technical Experts Committee on Hazardous Wastes related to Ship breaking and pursued cases involving famous ships like RIKY (Kong Frederik IX), Le Clemenceau, SS Blue Lady, Platinum II and Exxon Valdez and others. It has been an invitee to UN Meetings and training workshops of Comptroller Auditor General of India on environmental health.

It is noteworthy that while Government of Gujarat did the right by building Pipavav as as dry dock facility for ship breaking in the 1990s, it failed to follow it up in Alang where environmentally damaging beaching method continue to be adopted. This method has been discontinued in Europe and it is being abandoned in the developed countries.
In view of the above, we seek Committee’s intervention to undertake probe the murky deals of Maersk to uphold its obligations under the Basel Convention and ensure compliance with Hon’ble Court’s orders and the Shipbreaking Code. It should factor in the fact that India being a Party to the Convention has a legal obligation to uphold the treaty it signed in supreme national interest and resist lobbying by vested interests. It should also consider recommending against proposed Hong Kong Convention which is contrary to India’s interest and in order to uphold the letter and spirit of Basel Convention. The Committee should recommend a comprehensive audit by Comptroller Auditor General of India to ascertain the implications of dumping of hundreds of end-of-life ships in Indian waters that is belittling India’s stature among the comity of nations.
We will be happy to appear before the Committee with relevant documents and facts.   

Yours faithfully
Gopal Krishna
ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA)
Mb: 08227816731, 09818089660
Shri Nitin Gadkari, Union Minister, Ministry of Shipping, Government of India
Hon’ble Members of Parliamentary Standing Committee (PSC) on Transport, Tourism and Culture-
Shri Narendra Kumar Swain   
Shri Lal Sinh Vadodia
Shri Ritabrata Banerjee
Dr. Prabhakar Kore     
Shri Rangasayee Ramakrishna
Dr. K. Chiranjeevi      
Shri Rajeev Shukla     
Ms Kumari Selja         
Shri Kiranmay Nanda
Shri Ram Kumar Sharma        
Shri Yogi Adityanath  
Shri Subrata Bakshi    
Shri Ram Charitra       
Shri Manoj Kumar Tiwari        .
Shri Rajeshbhai Naranbhai Chudasama          
Shri Harish Chandra Meena    
Shri Kunwar Haribansh Singh
Shri Rahul Kaswan     
Shri Ponguleti Srinivasa Reddy           
Shri Rajesh Pandey     
Shri Prathap Simha     
Shri Vinod Chavda     
Km. Arpita Ghosh      
Shri Dushyant Singh   
Shri Rajesh Ranjan (Pappu Yadav)     
Shri Rakesh Singh       
Shri Kristappa Nimmala          
Shri P. Kumar
Shri K. C. Venugopal  
Shri Shatrughan Prasad Sinha

Preventable asbestos related diseases and deaths must be prevented, regulators and manufacturers held criminally liable

Written By Gopal Krishna on Friday, September 30, 2016 | 2:50 AM

National Labour Institute journal publishes paper seeks “elimination of use of all kinds of asbestos as per the recommendations of the Court, ILO and WHO”

“If preventable diseases and deaths are not prevented, the regulators and manufacturers of asbestos based products must face criminal liability”, said Dr Gopal Krishna, Editor, ToxicsWatch and convener, Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI) while delivering a speech at the 3rd International Conference on Occupational and Environmental Health (ICOEH 2016) in at National Institute of Health & Family Welfare (NIHFW), Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, Govt. of India, New Delhi. Drawing lessons from the ongoing industrial disaster of Bhopal caused by Union Carbide Corporation, he argued that the public health disaster being caused by asbestos based industries shows that no lessons have been learnt from the industrial disaster which happened 32 years ago and which continues to be an ongoing disaster. Like hazardous chemicals, asbestos is a threat to life throughout its life cycle. 

He was speaking at the Scientific Session III “Elimination of Asbestos Related Diseases in India” which was co-chaired by Dr. U Datta, Dean, NIHFW and Dr. Geeta Pardeshi, Associate Professor, Vardhaman Mahavir Mdical College (VMMC).

The abstract of Krishna’s paper titled “Status of enviro-occupational  health of workers in hazardous industries: An inquiry into asbestos industry” has been published in the Souvenir of the ICOEH.

“This paper examines the hazards which workers face in the in the asbestos based industries. The paper examines the implications of routine admission by the industry that asbestos fibers which are used in their plants as a raw material is hazardous in nature and the “industry will give information to the workers on hazards associated with asbestos" given the fact that asbestos factory's "Construction site has a potential hazardous environment." The paper will evaluate the regulatory mechanisms in place to deal with the deleterious effect of exposure to asbestos fibers and the role of the asbestos products manufacturers. The paper reviews the submission to National Human Rights Commission by Maharashtra government and inconsistencies that get revealed from the documents of state’s Directorate of Industrial Safety & Health (DISH) in the matter of death and diseases of workers who worked in asbestos based factories and on plots of ship breakers.”

“It examines the studies conducted by National Institute of Occupational Health, Ahmedabad on health hazards resulting from asbestos industry and shipbreaking industry.”

“The paper examines the status of asbestos factories in Bhojpur, Bihar. The occupational health status of 78 workers currently working in the asbestos based factrory in Bihiya, Bhojpur is dealt with reference to the death of a worker in the factory. The paper documents the reaction of the government and the company to the death of the worker in question. It reviews the role of State Government, Patna High Court, Bihar State Assembly, Bihar Human Rights Commission, Bihar State Pollution Control Board, Central Pollution Control Board and National Human Rights Commission in the matter of asbestos based factories in the state. The paper reviews the decision of the Government of India to stop “grant any new mining lease for asbestos (including Chrysotile variety) in the country" keeping in mind the ‘deleterious effect of asbestos mining on health of the workers’. It examines its rationale of promoting trade, manufacturing and use of asbestos fibers in India.” 

“The paper draws on lessons from the industrial disaster of 1984. This disaster demonstrated that what happens to workers happens to communities and environment. The life cycle assessment of hazardous industries and products has unequivocally established the adverse health impact on workers and consumers. Workers and the communities in the vicinity are a community of fate.  The link between occupational exposures and non-exposures isn’t quite distant. The paper underlines how lack of documentation and lack of occupational health infrastructure does not mean lack of victims of asbestos related diseases.”

“It infers that there is a need for adopting measures consistent with global scientific and medical findings to safeguard workers from asbestos related incurable diseases caused due to occupational exposures and non-occupational exposures of their families. It builds a case for intervention aimed at saving workers’ health and life from dirty, degrading and dangerous working and living conditions.”  The abstract of the paper is available at page no, 74 of the Souvenir published by ICOEH. ICOEH was co-organised by Department of Community Medicine, Vardhaman Mahavir Mdical College & Safdarjung Hospital, New Delhi, National Institute of Health and Family Welfare (NIHFW), New Delhi in partnership with Occupational Health and Safety Management Consultancy Services (OHS-MC) and in collaboration with Indian Public Health Association, St. Stephen's Hospital, Delhi, Hamdard Institute of Medical Sciences & Research (HIMSR), New Delhi, Indian Association of Preventive and Social Medicine, Community Medicine Department, PDU Govt. Medical College, Rajkot Gujarat, Indian Association for Adolescent Health, Dept of Community Medicine, Maulana Azad Medical College, New Delhi, Advanced Research Publications, Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh and Center for Inquiry, Washington, DC, USA.         

The Souvenir was released by Dr. Jagdish Prasad, Director General of Health Services, Government of India along with Dr Barry Kistnasamy, Occupational Health/Compensation Commissioner, South Africa, Dr. Jugal Kishore Chairman, Scientific Committee, ICOEH, Prof Dr J K Das and Dr Ashish Mittal.    
Commenting on the presentation regarding Asbestos related diseases (ARDs), Dr. Geeta Pardeshi said, “As many cases remain undiagnosed and are not notified what is known is just tip of the iceberg- the rest represents the submerged portion of the iceberg. On one hand there is also an increasing trend of ARDs and on the other hand we have elimination of ARDs as a goal to be achieved. This means we have to change the direction as well as the magnitude of the curve- A huge challenge.”

She added, “There are gaps in our understanding of the problem in India and this is a potential area of research for young researchers. Experiences from countries which have already banned Asbestos indicates that there are serious post ban issues, especially the risks associated with exposure in abandoned asbestos mines which pose a risk of environmental exposure. India’s changing position on this issue is a cause of concern. We need to take a studied, scientific and solid stand on the international forum and be ready to face the challenges which accompany such a decision!”

Speaking at the conference, it was argued that there is a logical compulsion for Union of India to support inclusion of white chrysotile asbestos in the UN list of hazardous chemicals under UN’s Rotterdam Convention.

In a related development, an academic paper “Status of occupational health of workers in hazardous industries: An inquiry into asbestos and ship breaking industry”published in Labour & Development journal by V. V. Giri National Labour Institute, the Ministry of Labour & Employment, Government India concludes. “Given incontrovertible evidence, the government ought to consider recommendations to take preventive steps by ensure elimination of use of all kinds of asbestos as per the recommendations of the Court, ILO and WHO.  The continued use of white chrysotile asbestos is a legacy of the Soviet era. There are established substitutes of these killer fibers of asbestos which need to be adopted to prevent incurable diseases but preventable deaths. In view of the ongoing environmental exposures, emergence of the epidemic of asbestos related diseases and diseases due to exposure to other hazardous substances there is an immediate need to create a register of these workers and their health records as per Court's decision and to undertake an audit of the current status of the victims of asbestos related diseases from the government hospital records in the country and make it mandatory for medical colleges to provide training for doctors. This is required so that they can diagnose diseases caused by occupational, non-occupational and environmental exposures to killer fibers and substances.”    

This paper “reveals that the relationship between the employer and the employee in asbestos industry is deeply exploitative. The latter suffers the fate of dehumanization. They have become the most vulnerable workforce in the world. Their condition is admittedly worse than the workforce in the worst industrial sector-the mining industry. This dehumanization linked to the externalization of human cost by global and national companies. The workers of the hazardous industries constitute part of the community of fate to which all wretched of the earth belong with no remedy from occupational health crisis in sight.”

Drawing on Central Government’s Draft National Health Policy, 2015 which mentions “industrial and occupational safety” as part of multiple determinants of health, it concludes that “So far “existing knowledge” has failed to inspire institutional action to safeguard the health of even the most vulnerable working class. It is apparent that there has been a policy bias against them since inception. If this policy can facilitate preventive structural measures with regard to preventable but incurable diseases “that are more prevalent in certain occupational groups” it can pave the way for occupational health justice for the workers. 

BANI/ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA), Mb: 09818089660, 08227816731 Web: http://www.asbestosfreeindia.org, www.toxicswatch.org

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