In the rush for economic growth, Indian citizens have had scant opportunity to comment on or influence development plans by companies such as Visaka. Events which have taken place in the Indian State of Bihar show that this disenfranchisement will no longer be tolerated. Civil society is demanding a say in whether or not toxic factories spewing out asbestos contamination will be accepted within their communities. The newly raised voice of public opinion and the mobilization by local populations against the citing of asbestos-cement plants in their midst is changing the political, social and economic dynamics of India's damaging asbestos trade.
On January 16, 2013, up to 3,000 people took part in a mass demonstration in Patna, the capital of Bihar State.
For more than two years people in Vaishali have been voicing their objections to Utkal's plans to impose an asbestos processing facility on their village. As a result of their protests on June 14, 2012, the district administrator put a hold on construction on the designated site. Unfortunately, work began again on December 16, 2012; direct action taken as a result included a mass blockade of the main road from Mahua to Samastipur. Commenting on the protest which took place in Patna earlier this month, Gopal Krishna, of the Ban Asbestos Network of India, said:
“The villagers do not want an asbestos factory to be built in Vaishali. They have made their feelings known to the company and to the local authorities. Unfortunately, the collusion between Utkal Asbestos Limited and their political supporters has up till now frustrated legitimate democratic efforts to hold a public enquiry into the green-lighting of the company's plans to designate fertile agricultural land as barren wasteland in order for municipal permission to be granted. The threat to public health which the construction of this factory represents should be acknowledged and acted upon. Given the fact that health is a State subject, without waiting for Central Government to act, the State Government of Bihar can act on its own to protect its citizens and set a precedent for other States to follow.”January 28, 2013
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