Author(s): Soma Basu,Issue Date: 2013-3-29
Case filed after chief minister takes a stand against asbestos companies
Utkal Asbestos Limited (UAL) has sued the Bihar government over chief
minister Nitish Kumar's remarks about asbestos. The chief minister had
promised to “puncture construction of hazardous asbestos factories in
the fertile state”. While stating this, he had endorsed a statement
issued by Awadhesh Narain Singh, chairperson of Bihar Legislative
Council, who said, “buying asbestos is akin to buying cancer”.
For over two years, residents of Chaksultan Rampur Rajdhari village
in Vaishali district have been protesting setting up of a hazardous
white asbestos plant on agricultural land under the banner of Khet
Bachao Jeevan Bachao Jan Sangharsh Committee (KBJBJC). Patna-based
Asbestos Virodhi Nagrik Manch, besides Left and Socialist parties, have
expressed solidarity with the people’s struggle.
|Chrysotile asbestos, or white asbestos, will soon be included in the
UN list of hazardous substances under the Rotterdam Convention on the
Prior Informed Consent (PIC) Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals
and Pesticides in International Trade at the sixth meeting of Conference
of the Parties to be held between April 28 and May 10 this year.
The Chemical Review Committee of the
Convention had recommended listing of white asbestos after the World
Health Organisation (WHO) stated that asbestos is a hazardous substance,
harmful to human health and environment, and that cannot be used safely
in a controlled manner.
India announced its position on June 22,
2011, the third day of the fifth Conference of Parties of the Rotterdam
Convention in Geneva, amidst standing ovation at the plenary meeting.
Listing of chrysotile asbestos in Annex III of the Rotterdam Convention
or PIC list will make it mandatory for exporting countries to share
information on the hazards of the mineral with the importing countries.
It may be noted that India is the chair for a smaller group to discuss
and influence the position of Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Vietnam and other
countries opposing the listing.
Canada was one of the key suppliers of
chrysotile asbestos, which opposed its inclusion in the PIC list of
hazardous substances. The purpose of the PIC procedure is to allow
countries to make their own informed decisions on future imports of
hazardous substances. The chemicals listed in Annex III of the
Convention include pesticides and industrial chemicals that have been
banned or are severely restricted for health or environmental reasons by
two or more Parties and which the Conference of the Parties has decided
to subject to the PIC procedure.
Canada barely uses asbestos in its own
country. It has been spending millions to remove asbestos from the
Parliament buildings. However, despite knowing the cancer-causing nature
of asbestos, Canada continues to ship some 150,000 tonnes of it to
countries like India each year.
At the ninth International Asbestos Disease
Awareness Conference during March 22-24, this year in Washington DC,
Arthur L Frank, chairperson of environmental and occupational health at
Drexel University in Philadelphia, expressed concern over India’s
current unchecked dependence on chrysotile asbestos, reflecting on
multiple expert studies projecting a spike in mesothelioma and other
asbestos-related diseases in Asia by 2030. Frank, who is a visiting
professor at Maulana Azad Medical College, New Delhi, said: “What we can
expect is very predictable—an absolute catastrophe of death and disease
and it is all preventable.”
The district administration had ordered UAL to stop construction
after a public demonstration by residents of Mahadharna village on June
14, 2012. Construction restarted on December 16, 2012. However, work was
stalled again after protesters blocked the Mahua-Samastipur road for
nine hours near their village in December-end.
On February 13, KBJBJC activists met Nitish Kumar and informed him
about the plant. He promised to take action against the company and
expressed anger over Bihar State Pollution Control Board (BSPCB)
granting No Objection Certificates to such a plant. At the chief
minister’s behest, BSPCB officials met the residents at his office. They
also visited the factory site on March 4 to review the case.
In response to the state government’s anti-asbestos stance, UAL filed
a case on March 4, this year in the Patna High Court. The case is
scheduled for hearing on April 4, before Justice J N Singh.
But the licence of UAL has still not been cancelled. "The company has
managed to retain the licence because it has the support of deputy
chief minister Sushil Kumar," alleges Gopal Krishna of ToxicsWatch
Ajit Kumar Singh, convener of KBJBJC, says UAL has implicated the
protesters in several police complaints. “For instance, they set afire
one of their machines and lodged a police complaint, alleging it was
done by us. I have video records to prove that the machine was burnt by
UAL officials,” he says. KBJBJC activists have given a memorandum to the
chief minister, seeking withdrawal of three fake cases lodged in Mahua
Singh says there are three more asbestos plants that have been set up
in the state, at Giddha and Bihiya villages in Bhojpur district. The
plant at Giddha is operating behind a BEd College, while residents are
protesting against it. “In Bihiya, Ramco Industries is operating two
asbestos plants amid protests from people although it has permission for
only one. A memorandum has been submitted to the district
administration and the BSPCB in this regard,” Singh says.
Call to ban asbestos
While addressing health experts, scientists, trade union leaders,
academicians and civil society leaders at a conference on environmental
and occupational health on December 24, last year, Singh, chairperson of
the Bihar Legislative Council had said, “Buying asbestos is akin to
buying cancer”. The conference adopted a Patna Declaration, urging the
state to ban use of asbestos products.
The same day, Justice Rekha Kumari of Patna High Court had said at a
public lecture at A N Sinha Institute of Social Studies that companies
which wilfully expose human beings to cancer-causing fibers of asbestos,
must be made criminally liable because right to health is part of right
to life. Over 50 countries have banned use of asbestos.
Post a Comment