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Legislative Council Chairman & CM remain opposed to hazardous factories in fertile Bihar

Written By Krishna on Saturday, March 30, 2013 | 5:36 AM

Bihar Pollution Control Board’s report on fake claims about barrenness of Vaishali land by Utkal Asbestos Company submitted, as per Chief Minister’s order

Vaishali DM and SP to appear in Patna High Court for inaction against protesters of killer asbestos factory

Legislative Council Chairman & CM remain opposed to hazardous factories in fertile Bihar  

Patna/New Delhi: Sources have revealed that following Chief Minister’s instructions dated February 13, 2013 after meeting the villagers of Vaishali, Bihar State Pollution Control Board (BSPCB) has submitted the report on fake claims about barrenness of Vaishali land by Utkal Asbestos company. BSPCB did a site visit on March 4, 2013 after villagers met the BSPCB Chairman on February 14, 2013. Officials present at the Chief Minister’s residence on February 13, 2013 urged the villagers and left leaders to start a campaign against asbestos based products to protect public health.  

Taking a confrontationist approach, Utkal Asbestos Limited (UAL) filed the case on March 4, 2013, the day BSPCB undertook a visit to factory site in compliance with the Chief Minister’s orders.  

In the case filed by Utkal Asbestos Company on March 4, 2013 in the Patna High Court, it has complained that local people of Vaishali have ransacked the premises of the proposed asbestos factory wherein first information reports (FIRs) have been instituted, but no action is being taken by the authorities in respect of incidents and against the accused named therein. Justice Jayanandan Singh passed an order on March 22, 2013. The March 22 order reads: “This Court considers it appropriate to hear the District Magistrate, Vaishali, at Hajipur and Superintendent of Police, Vaishali at Hajipur personally before proceeding further in the matter. Let the District Magistrate, Vaishali and the Superintendent of Police, Vaishali at Hajipur be personally present in Court on 4th of April, 2013” for orders. The order is attached.  

It has come to light that the Circle Officer of the area is believed to have wrongly informed the BSPCB that the fertile patch of agricultural land verifiable from the land records was ‘barren’ by trusting the flawed EIA report the company. Villagers have explained how fake public hearing and faulty environmental clearance happened by blatant factual misrepresentation. A total of 4 pages as against more than 300 pages of EIA were given to the villagers. The EIA report referred to agricultural land as barren land. When UAL representative and EIA consultant was asked to explain in the tripartite meeting in the office of Sub Divisional Officer (SDO), Mahuwa, Vaishali on June 30, 2012, the EIA consultant replied that by barren he meant vacant land. He argued that Bihar Government does not stop factories in agricultural land. This clearly exposed the false claims of the company.     

It may be noted that a reply of Rakesh Kumar, Member Secretary, Bihar State Pollution Control Board (BSPCB) dated August 13, 2012 sent to the Secretary, Environment & Forests Department, Government of Bihar sent to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) which has sought status of asbestos factories and victims of asbestos related diseases in the State. Despite the fact that environmental clearance for Kolkata based UAL Industries Ltd for establishment of 2, 33, 000 MT per year capacity Asbestos Cement Sheet and Corrugated Sheets Plant in two phases at Goraul, Vaishali in the name of UAL-Bihar was given clearance on February 23, 2012, BSPCB’s letter dated August 13, 2012 does not mention it.

In order to seek direct invention of Chief Minister in this matter of hazardous asbestos plant in Mahuwa, Vaishali to save their land and livelihood, villagers had demonstrated before CM on January 16, 2013 in the State capital. Their written submission concluded by saying that administration should save villagers from the hazardous factory instead of saving the poisonous factory.

Earlier, as per the order of District Magistrate (DM), Vaishali, Bihar in the matter of opposition to the proposed white asbestos based plant of Utkal Asbestos Limited (UAL) company, fifteen members of Khet Bachao Jeevan Bachao Jan Sangarsh Committee (KBJBJSC) comprising of villagers of Kanhauli Dhanraj Panchayat of Goraul block and representatives of the UAL met in the office of Sub Divisional Officer (SDO), Mahuwa, Vaishali on June 30, 2012 and discussed grievances against the hazardous plant. This tripartite meeting was necessitated by villagers Mahadharna of June 14, 2012 against the construction of hazardous asbestos plant. Since then villagers have been making the following demands:
1. Ensure permanent stay on the construction work of the fatal asbestos based factory
2. Initiate proper proceedings against the company by taking cognizance of their fake cases against villagers
3. Dismiss all fake cases registered against the leaders of Khet Bachao Jeevan Bachao Jan Sangarsh Committee, activists and villagers (Mahuwa Police Station, FIR No. 252/12)
4. Do not give permission to hazardous industries on agricultural land
5. Initiate proper proceedings against the company for misrepresenting facts in its Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Report
6. Probe and initiate action those government officials who are colluding with owner of the factory

As per the order of District Magistrate (DM), Vaishali, Bihar in the matter of opposition to the proposed white asbestos based plant of Utkal Asbestos Limited (UAL) company, members of Khet Bachao Jeevan Bachao Jan Sangarsh Committee (KBJBJSC) comprIsing of villagers of Kanhauli Dhanraj Panchayat of Goraul block and representatives of the UAL met again in the office of Sub Divisional Officer (SDO), Mahuwa, Vaishali on September 28, 2012 to discuss the grievances against the  lung cancer causing factory.  This was the second tripartite meeting was necessitated by villagers Mahadharna of June 14, 2012 against the plant. ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA) was present at both the September 28 and June 30, 2012 meetings convened by the District administration.  

The reply of KBJBJC to the response of their letter to DM in the matter of UAL’s proposed Asbestos factory at Vaishali’s Chaksultan Ramppur Rajdhari near Panapur in Kanhauli Dhanraj Panchayat addressed to DM was given to SDO.

On behalf of UAL, Dr S P Vivek Chandra Rao, the advisor of Asbestos Cement Products Manufacturers Association had unsuccessfully attempted to respond to KBJBJC’s letter to District Magistrate dated June 30, 2012. Dr Rao singled out 15 issues out of our comprehensive submission to respond, the same is being replied as under in order:
1.       The fact of ban on asbestos mining has not been disputed by him. The fact is mining of asbestos of all kinds, trade in asbestos waste (dust & fibers) is banned in India. In June 1993, central government stopped the renewal of existing mining leases of asbestos.  The mining activity was banned by Union Ministry of Mines.  It is strange that while mining of asbestos is banned in our country due to adverse health impact, the same is being imported from Russia, Canada and other countries. It may be noted that Canada has a no home use policy and it is investing to decontaminate its built environment of asbestos. 
2.       The recent victory of the political party which has announced closure of asbestos mine in Quebec, Canada which is one of the key suppliers of India once again vindicates the logic that compelled more than 50 countries to ban use of asbestos of all kinds. Consequently, Canadian Government has also been forced to announce chrysotile asbestos (white asbestos) as a hazardous substance on September 4, 2012.
3.       It is not disputed that “55 countries have banned asbestos”. The major concern created by exposures to “low” concentrations of asbestos is the risk of mesothelioma, for which no threshold exists. It is clear that there no safe level at which asbestos can be used.
4.       It is not disputed that “WHO says, chrysotile is also carcinogenic”. In a letter to Bihar Chief Minister, Deputy Chief Minister and District Magistrate, Vaishali, Fernanda Giannasi, a well known Brazilian labor inspector for the Regional Labor and Employment Superintendence in São Paulo (Ministry of Labor and Employment) wrote “I am a manager of the state asbestos program to eradicate the asbestos. For almost 30 years, I have inspected industrial plants in my state of São Paulo where 172 companies declared using asbestos, out of which 170 have already changed the technology for asbestos-free enforcing the state law and we have followed all these changes and respective improvements for the worker’s safety and health and of course for the general public health.” She added, “It is scientifically and medically established that asbestos is a fibrous mineral that is known to cause cancer in humans, in all its forms, origins and types, according to the most important scientific academies and national and international health institutions. A vast medical literature produced over the course of the 20th century sustains the thesis that there is no safe way to work with asbestos or use products that contain it, and that the best way to eliminate diseases caused by this mineral fiber is to ban it.” World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Labor Organization (ILO), among others that have been working to eliminate the “health catastrophe of the 20th century,” given the serious is the epidemic nature of the diseases caused by asbestos.
5.       The fact of what the text book says is not disputed. The abstract of a paper titled ‘Asbestos-An Important Public Health Hazard’ published for the National Convention of Chemistry Teachers and National Seminar on “Emerging Trends in Green Chemistry during October 15-17 2011 that is recognized with a message from Nitish Kumar, Chief Minister, Bihar. In the abstract of paper, it is stated that as early as “In 1935 first time, Lynch Smith described a lung carcinoma in a patient with asbestosis (fibrosis of the lung caused by the inhalation of asbestos dust). A large number of clinical, epidemiologic, and experimental studies established carcinogenic effect of different types of asbestos fibers on various tissues and organs, both in humans and in experimental animals. Inhalation is major source of exposure in humans.” It also noted that “its (asbestos) diffusion in the occupational and general environment causing a lot of health hazards even cancer.”  This even was recognized by International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) and United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as part of The International Year of Chemistry 2011. Villagers expressed the hope that the Chief Minister will take cognizance of the scientific facts which was brought to his attention from the chemistry teachers through the convention and seminar organized by Department of Chemistry, AN College, Patna. 
6.    WHO says, “One in every three deaths from occupational cancer is estimated to be caused by asbestos. In addition, it is estimated that several thousand deaths annually can be attributed to exposure to asbestos in the home.”
UAL failed to satisfy the villagers. Its EIA report fails mention asbestos hazards to villagers.  The consultant of the EIA report has admitted that “Construction site has a potential hazardous environment”. It also admits, “Asbestos fiber will be used in the plant as a raw material is hazardous in nature, the industry will give information to the workers on hazards associated with asbestos”.  
7.    It cannot be disputed that the concept paper by Union Ministry of Labour has   revealed at the two-day 5th India-EU Joint Seminar on “Occupational Safety and Health” on 19-20th September, 2011 that "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." It has noted that "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". The document is readily available at http://www.labour.nic.in/lc/Background%20note.pdf)
8.       On July 6, 2011, India's National Human Rights Commission has issued notices to the central and state governments asking the status of victims of asbestos. It took note of an estimate that suggests that some 50, 000 people are likely to die annually in India based on what is going on in Ontario, Canada.
9.       US Environment Protection Agency says, “No safe exposure threshold (with respect to for inhaling asbestos fibers) has been established, but the risk of disease generally increases with the length and amount of exposure.
The same is reiterated by WHO at:
10.    As to PILs in the Supreme Court and Patna High Court. The paragraph 15 of Supreme Court order referred to in the order of High Court and the related paragraph 14 read as under:
14.  In the matter relating to secondary exposure of workers to asbestos, though the grounds have been taken in the Writ Petition without any factual basis, again in the Rejoinder filed to the counter affidavit of respondent No.37, this issue has been raised by the petitioner in detail. In the earlier judgment of this Court in the case of Consumer Education and Research Centre (supra), hazards arising out of primary use of asbestos were primarily dealt with, but certainly secondary exposure also needs to be examined by the Court. In that judgment, the Court had noticed that it would, thus, be clear that diseases occurred wherever the exposure to the toxic or carcinogenic agent occurs, regardless of the country, type of industry, job title, job assignment or location of exposure. The diseases will follow the trail of the exposure and extend the chain of the carcinogenic risk beyond the work place. In that judgment, the Court had also directed that a review by the Union and the States shall be made after every ten years and also as and when the ILO gives directions in this behalf consistent with its recommendations or conventions. Admittedly, 15 years has expired since the issuance of the directions by this Court. The ILO also made certain specific directions vide its resolution of 2006 adopted in the 95th session of the International Labour Conference. It introduced a ban on all mining, manufacture, recycling and use of all forms of asbestos. As already noticed, serious doubts have been raised as to whether `controlled use' can be effectively implemented even with regard to secondary exposure. These are circumstances which fully require the concerned quarters/authorities in the Government of India as well as the State Governments to examine/review the matter in accordance with law, objectively, to achieve the greater health care of the poor strata of the country who are directly or indirectly engaged in mining or manufacturing activities of asbestos and/or allied products.
15. As already noticed above, the Government has already presented the Bill in Rajya Sabha. The statement of objects and reasons of this Bill specifically notices that the white asbestos is highly carcinogenic and it has been so reported by the World Health Organisation.   In India, it is imported without any restriction while even its domestic use is not preferred by the exporting countries. Canada and Russia are the biggest exporters of white asbestos. In 2007, Canada exported 95% of the white asbestos, it mined out of which 43% was shipped to India. In view of these facts, there is an urgent need for a total ban on the import and use of white asbestos and promote the use of alternative materials. The Bill is yet to be passed but it is clearly demonstrated that the Government is required to take effective steps to prevent hazardous impact of use of asbestos. Thus, both the High Court and the Supreme Court take note of the resolution of WHO and ILO which seek elimination of all forms of asbestos.
11.    As to NHRC’s notice to Government of Bihar, the notice was sent to Chief Secretary, Government of Bihar on 6th July 2011. The NHRC’s press release about the notice is available at http://nhrc.nic.in/disparchive.asp?fno=2334
12.    It is not disputed that “Asbestos Cement waste is hazardous”. It is one of the 64 heavily polluting industries under Red Category by Union Environment & Forests Ministry. In fact, commerce in asbestos waste (dust & fibers) is banned in India under Hazardous Waste Management Rules, 2008 under Environment Protection Act, 1986.  
13.    It is not disputed that the study by National Institute of Occupational Health (NIOH), Ahmedabad was funded by the asbestos industry. It is beyond comprehension as to how such a study claim to be ‘independently conducted by scientists’. If this is an independent study what else is doctored study.  In effect, this study on occupational health impact of asbestos exposure was of the industry, for the industry and by the industry.
14.    EIA report of UAL has stated that construction environment is hazardous. The fact is it is hazardous to the health of both the villagers and the workers. The villagers committee had given a 33 page written submission in Hindi to the District Magistrate through SDO with annexures comprising of scientific and medical opinions. Villagers have explained how fake public hearing and faulty environmental clearnce happened by blatant factual misrepresentation. A total of 4 pages as against more than 300 pages of EIA were given to the villagers. The EIA report referred to agricultural land as barren land. When UAL representative and EIA consultant was asked to explain, the consultant replied that by barren he meant vacant land. Their submission creates a compelling logic against the construction of such heavily polluting plants.
15.    As to the dumping of asbestos laden hazardous waste material from the debris of collapsed World Trade Centre (WTC) in India which Dr Rao disputed. The fact is Ranveer Jaidka’s factory in Mandi Gobindgarh, Punjab was one of the several factories that bought the debris of the twin towers after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. “The WTC (World Trade Center) material was great. High-rise buildings use good quality steel,” he says, adding that many factories in Mandi Gobindgarh had bought it as per a report of April 22, 2010 in a business news paper.

On behalf of the UAL, Dr Rao claimed that import of hazardous waste is banned. This is not true. Under Rule 23 of Hazardous Wastes (Management, Handling and Transboundary Movement) Third Amendment Rules, 2008 refers to the “Responsibilities of Authorities” which is specified in its Schedule VII that provides the List of Authorities and Corresponding Duties” wherein it is mentioned that Directorate-General of Foreign Trade constituted under the Foreign Trade (Development and Regulation) Act, 1992 has a duty to“Grant License for import of hazardous wastes”.
It may be noted that Union Environment Ministry’s 19 page Vision Statement on Environment and Human Health (Para 4.3.1) on page 12 which reads: “Alternatives to asbestos may be used to the extent possible and use of asbestos may be phased out”. This merit serious consideration and the same is available. Source: moef.nic.in/divisions/cpoll/envhealth/visenvhealth.pdf.

It is clear that Bihar Government will not undermine public interest for the benefit of an asbestos factory owner who is more interested in defending the financial interests of a powerful asbestos industry rather than in protecting public health.

Villagers handed over to Sub Divisional Officer (SDO), Jyoti Kumar a Hindi translation of Dr Barry Castleman’s letter to District Magistrate along with the original. In a letter to Vaishali District Magistrate, Jitendra Srivastava, Dr. Castleman, a globally recognized foremost authority on medical and legal aspects of asbestos, who has worked with WHO, World Bank and Pan American Health Organisation, wrote, “Strong local opposition to the construction of the asbestos plant in Vaishali is supported by the official statements of the World Health Orgainsation, the International Labour Organisation, and the World Bank calling for an end to asbestos products use…Even the World Trade Organisation has supported national asbestos bans and rejected arguments for ‘controlled use of asbestos’ as unrealistic.” In his letter, Dr Castleman mentions, ‘At a hearing in Brasilia on August 31, 2012, the public prosecutor excoriated the asbestos industry as purely profit-oriented, saying that vast liabilities had been created and left for society to pay; he closed by saying the export of asbestos to poor Asian countries was “environmental racism”.’ KBJBJSC also gave their point wise response to 15 specific issues singled out by Dr Rao on behalf of UAL. The SDO inquired about the agitation against a similar plant in Bhojpur due to water scarcity caused by two asbestos plants in Bihiya. He expressed his worry about the imminent water crisis in the area. 

With regard to the asbestos company making ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA) convener, Gopal Krishna has been made the prime accused in the case of demolition of asbestos factory in Vaishali on December 16, 2013. Incidentally, Gopal Krishna was present in two public events on December 16, 2013 during day time and at night in New Delhi which is properly documented. Companies have mastered the art of lodging fake FIRs with impunity. This is yet another case of a strategic litigation against a public interest person (SLAPP) to silence him.   

In a judgment dated January 27, 1995 in the Writ Petition (Civil) No. 206 of 1986, the Supreme Court of India has held that “The development of the carcinogenic risk due to asbestos or any other carcinogenic agent does not require continuous exposure. The cancer risk does not cease when the exposure to the carcinogenic agent ceases, but rather the individual carries the increased risk for the remaining years of life. The exposure to asbestos and the resultant long tragic chain of adverse medical, legal and societal consequences, reminds the legal and social responsibility of the employer or producer not to endanger the workmen or the community or the society. He or it is not absolved of the inherent responsibility to the exposed workmen or the society at large. They have the responsibility-legal, moral and social to provide protective measures to the workmen and to the public or all those who are exposed to the harmful consequences of their products.”

Both the International Labour Organization (ILO) and WHO recognise that the most efficient way to eliminate asbestos-related diseases is to stop the use of all types of asbestos, replace asbestos with safer substitutes, take measures to prevent exposure to asbestos in place and during asbestos removal and improve early diagnosis, treatment, social and medical rehabilitation of asbestos-related diseases and to establish registries of people with past and/or current exposures to asbestos. ILO also passed a resolution seeking elimination of future usage of asbestos of all forms in June 2006. How can such glaring scientific and medical facts be ignored?

National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has issued notices to all the State Governments, Union Territories and concerned ministries of the Central Government to file the status of asbestos disease victims and asked them why it should not be banned. The Commission has underlined that keeping inmates under asbestos roof is harmful and alternative roofs should be used.

In a letter to Vaishali District Magistrate, Jitendra Srivastava, Dr. Barry Castleman, globally recognized foremost authority on medical and legal aspects of asbestos, who has worked with WHO, World Bank and Pan American Health Organisation, wrote, “Strong local opposition to the construction of the asbestos plant in Vaishali is supported by the official statements of the World Health Orgainsation, the International Labour Organisation, and the World Bank calling for an end to asbestos products use…Even the World Trade Organisation has supported national asbestos bans and rejected arguments for ‘controlled use of asbestos’ as unrealistic.” In his letter, Dr Castleman mentions, ‘At a hearing in Brasilia on August 31, 2012, the public prosecutor excoriated the asbestos industry as purely profit-oriented, saying that vast liabilities had been created and left for society to pay; he closed by saying the export of asbestos to poor Asian countries was “environmental racism”.

Vaishali District Magistrate has been sent letters from Canada, Brazil and citizen movement groups like Indian Social Action Forum and National Alliance for Peoples Movements.

It may be noted that in his ‘Testimony for the Brazilian Supreme Court’, Prof. Benedetto Terracini (retd), Cancer Epidemiology, University of Torino Italy observed that there is only propaganda in defense of the immoral continuing production, trade and use of asbestos and strongly criticized asbestos industry’s junk science.

There is a compelling logic of threats to life and public health recognized by more than 50 countries have banned production, use, manufacture and trade of the hazardous mineral fiber, ASBESTOS. These countries are: Algeria, Czech Republic, Iceland, Malta, Seychelles, Argentina, Denmark, Ireland, Mozambique, Slovakia, Australia, Egypt, Israel, Netherlands, Slovenia, Austria, Estonia, Italy, New Caledonia, South Africa, Bahrain, Finland, Japan, Norway, Spain, Belgium, France, Jordan, Oman, Sweden, Brunei, Gabon, South Korea, Poland, Switzerland, Bulgaria, Germany, Kuwait, Portugal, Turkey, Chile, Greece, Latvia, Qatar, United Kingdom, Croatia, Honduras, Lithuania, Romania, Uruguay, Cyprus, Hungary, Luxembourg and Saudi Arabia. All the 27 countries of European Union have banned it.

According to a Fact sheet No.343 of the World Health Organisation (WHO) titled ‘Asbestos: elimination of asbestos-related diseases’ dated July 2010, “All forms of asbestos are carcinogenic to humans, and may cause mesothelioma and cancer of the lung, larynx and ovary. Asbestos exposure is also responsible for other diseases, such as asbestosis (fibrosis of the lungs), pleural plaques, thickening and effusions.” The harmful effects of asbestos of all kinds have been established conclusively.

The statement of Shri Awadhesh Narain Singh, Chairman, Bihar Legislative Council saying ‘buying asbestos is akin to buying cancer’ at a conference on environmental and occupational health on December 24, 2012 in his address to the health experts, scientists, trade union leaders, academicians, civil society leaders and villagers has paved the way for State of Bihar to ban Asbestos Product Use and to ban Asbestos Product Use. Speech of Chairman, Bihar Legislative Council is available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B9TbemRUkYM

Bihar government can make the Central government follow its foot-steps as it has done so in many aspects of social justice by adopting a road map for making the state asbestos free.

For Details: Gopal Krishna, ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA), Mb: 9818089660 (Delhi),
Ajit Kr Singh, Convener, Khet Bachao Jeevan Bachao Jan Sangharsh Committee (KBJBJC), Vaishali, Mb: 09931669311, E-mail:ajeetsinghpushkar@gmail.com
Ravindra Prasad Singh, KBJBJC), Vaishali, Mb: 8986980751 
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