ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA)
Shri Nitish Kumar
Hon’ble Chief Minister
Government of Bihar
Date: April 12, 2013
Subject- Why asbestos based factories should be stopped in Bihar
Dear Shri Nitish Kumarji,
We wish to place on record our appreciation for respecting the wishes of villagers of Marwan, Muzaffarpur and Goraul, Vaishali who are opposed to hazardous asbestos based plants. The former has been wound up and the latter has been suspended temporarily. We have learnt that the process of winding up the latter is also underway.
We submit that such sensitivity towards public health which is a State subject under the Constitution is a lesson for the Union Ministry of Environment & Forests which pretends ignorance about its own Vision Statement on Environment and Health on its website and continues to grant environmental clearance to such hazardous asbestos based factories which are banned in over 50 countries. The Vision Statement reads: "Alternatives to asbestos may be used to the extent possible and use of asbestos may be phased out." The central ministry’s document says so at page no. 12. It is available athttp://moef.nic.in/divisions/
We submit that the central government has technically banned mining of asbestos and trade in asbestos waste (dust & fibers). By the letter from Union Ministry of Steel, Mines & Coal, Government of India with reference no. 7/23/84-AM-III/AM-VI dated 09.07.1986, there is a stay on grant of new mining lease for asbestos mineral and renewal of the leases. As a result at present no permission is being given for new mining lease of asbestos mineral and no lease is being renewed. At present no lease of asbestos mineral is approved/or in force. The Hazardous Waste (Management, Handling and Transboundary Movement) Rules, 2010 has retained the ban on import/export of waste asbestos (dust & fibers).
We submit that Union Ministry of Chemical Fertilizers took the right step at the 5th meeting of the Conference of Parties of the UN’sRotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent (PIC) Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade that was held on 20-24 June, 2011 at Geneva by endorsing the inclusion of chrysotile asbestos (white asbestos) in the list of hazardous chemicals. The next meeting of Rotterdam Convention will commence on April 28, 2013 wherein chrysotile asbestos is all set to be included in the PIC list. The Contact groups under the separate ordinary meeting of the Rotterdam Convention could start on May 7, 2013 and would be encouraged to complete their work, if possible, by close of business on May 8, 2013 and not later than by close of business on May 9, 2013. The Chrysotile asbestos is all set to be listed in the PIC list. The Union Ministry of Chemicals disassociated India from Canada and other asbestos producing countries in order to get white asbestos listed in the UN list of hazardous materials on June 21, 2011.
We submit that in a significant development, asbestos industry in Canada has been buried with the announcement in last week's Canada's federal budget. In the Canadian budget papers at page 241, headline reads: "Supporting the Economic Transition of Communities Economically Linked to the Chrysotile Asbestos Industry" in the Chapter 3.5 titled: Supporting Families and Communities. By 2010 Canada hardly any customers, its biggest customer is India with $41 million. India being the biggest customer of Canadian asbestos, will have to take steps to look for alternatives of asbestos and have to take steps to support workers, families and communities who have been adversely impacted by asbestos exposure without any legal or medical remedy.
The value of Canada’s raw asbestos exports has dropped 94 per cent between 1990 and 2011. Exports alone were worth $645-million in 1990 and fell to $41-million in 2011. The government’s promised $50-million over seven years represents about 8 per cent of what asbestos exports were in 1990. The relevant text of the Canadian Budget Plan is available at http://www.budget.gc.ca/2013/
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 prior informed consent (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 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.
We submit that Canada barely uses asbestos in its own country for several years. It has been spending millions to remove asbestos from the Parliament Buildings. Despite knowing the cancer causing nature of asbestos, Canada continues to ship some 150,000 tonnes of it to countries like India each year. Bihar Government can initiate the process of making the State asbestos free by decontaminating State’s legislature buildings of asbestos fibers.
We submit that in November 2011, the last of the asbestos mines in Canada stopped operating. After that the Parti Québécois, the current ruling party won the election in Quebec and Premier Pauline Marois pledged to pull the plug on a proposal by Liberal Premier Jean Charest to loan the asbestos industry $58 million. This guides the way for complete ban asbestos in all its forms.
This is to inform you that Bihar Environment Minister, Shri Sushil Modi was briefed wrongly by his officials as a result he has misinformed the State Assembly about Supreme Court’s order on asbestos and adverse health impact studies. The attached WHO document reveals how ILO and WHO has recommended elimination of future use of asbestos of all forms including white chrysotile asbestos.
We submit that the Supreme Court orders of 1995 and 2011 categorically refer to studies that have established proven relation between asbestos exposure and incurable lung cancer.
We submit that even World Bank and Asian Development Bank documents underline the carcinogenic risks of asbestos fibers besides WHO and ILO.
In his reply in the State Assembly, Shri Sushil Kumar Modi, Bihar Minister of Environment & Forests has been misled into saying “Hon’ble Supreme Court while dismissing the Writ Petition (Civil) No. 260/2004 filed to get asbestos and products made from it, held that there is no available credible study on the basis of which direct relationship of cancer disease with use of asbestos can be proved.”This reply in Hindi is attached along with its English translation.
Contrary to what the Bihar Environment Minister replied in the State Assembly, Supreme Court in its judgment in the above mentioned case, dated January 21, 2011at paragraph 14 reads as under:
“....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.”
We submit that the Supreme Court in its judgment dated January 21, 2011 in Writ Petition (Civil) No.260 of 2004 referred to its directions of January 27, 1995 in the Writ Petition (Civil) No. 206 of 1986 that are required to be strictly adhered to including fresh International Labour Organisation (ILO) resolution on Asbestos dated June 14, 2006. The 1995 judgement quoted in 2011 order is attached.
It is clear that the Supreme Court has taken note of the resolution of WHO and ILO which seek elimination of all forms of asbestos.
Bihar Environment Minister was asked: Is it true that due to pollution happening due to asbestos factories, diseases like Mesothelioma, Asbestosis, lung cancer occur which is hazardous to health?
He replied, “So far there has been no study in the country to establish this fact in a credible manner.”
We submit that Bihar Environment Minister should note that as Union Health Minister, Sushma Swaraj has informed the Parliament on August 13, 2003, “…the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) is of the view that long term exposure to any type of asbestos can lead to development of asbestosis, lung cancer and Mesothelioma” and referred to the need for complying with “ILO directions” as per Supreme Court order.
We submit that Bihar Environment Minister should note that Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) reports of the asbestos companies also categorically admit to the relationship between exposure to asbestos and diseases like mesothelioma, asbestosis and lung cancer.
We submit that Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare, Dr. C.P. Thakur informed the Parliament on August 22, 2001 that “Some of the countries in the world like France, U.K., Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Netherland, Finland, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Austria, Poland and Saudi Arabia have banned the use of Asbestos”.
We submit that on December 24, 2012, Shri Awadesh Narain Singh, Chairman, Bihar Legislative Council expressed his strong opposition to such hazardous plants and expressed grief at such plants being set in Bihar at A N Sinha Institute of Social Studies in his inaugural address to a Conference on Environmental and Occupational Health co-organised by ToxicsWatch Alliance. He expressed unhappiness at the fact that such a plant has been set up next to educational institution in Giddha, Koilwar, Bhojpur. His valuable speech is available on www.youtube.com.
We submit that Bihar Environment Minister, a member of Bihar Legislative Council (BLC) appears ignorant about the views of Chairman, BLC, Dr Thakur and Smt Sushma Swaraj regarding asbestos hazards.
We submit that the government agencies like Directorate General, Factory Advice Service and Labour Institutes (DGFASLI) took note of Prevalence of Asbestosis and Related Disorders in a Asbestos Fiber Processing Unit in West Bengal as early as in 1996. Reference: Prevalence of Asbestosis and Related Disorders in a Asbestos Fiber Processing Unit in West Bengal. http://www.dgfasli.nic.in/
It must be noted that Secretary (Labour), Bihar was a member of a 11 member Working Group of a Planning Commission to prepare the Xth Five Year Plan on Occupational Safety and Health at the workplace under the Chairmanship of Vinod Vaish, Secretary, Ministry of Labour, Government of India vide their order no. M-13015/9/2000-LEM/LP dated 27.04.2001. In its 159 page report dated September 2001, the Working Group 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%. It has been acknowledged that “At the same time the number of occupational diseases reported is very meager…This makes it evident that early identification of occupational diseases is required. It has recommended that “To meet these requirements, measures are needed for diagnostic facilities and appropriate training in the field of occupational health. Occupational health hazards and diseases to the workmen employed in asbestos industries are of great concern to the industries, Govt. and the public. The Honorable Supreme Court of India in its judgement dated 27th January, 1995 relating to the Public Interest Litigation No.206 of 1986 had given several directions concerning the protective measures to be taken against the hazards of exposure to asbestos at workplaces such as mining and manufacturing activities. In the light of Supreme Court directives, it is proposed to launch a comprehensive programme for the protection of the health of the workers engaged in hazardous industries with adequate mechanisms for monitoring of work environment and diagnosis and control of disease.”
We submit that Union Ministry of Labour has revealed that 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" at page no. 28 of its concept paper at the two-day 5th India-EU Joint Seminar on “Occupational Safety and Health” during 19-20 September, 2011.
It is noteworthy 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.
We submit that even World Bank has a policy against asbestos since 1991. "The Bank increasingly prefers to avoid financing asbestos use...Thus, at any mention of asbestos in Bank-assisted projects, the Task Manager needs to exercise special care." (World Bank’s Environmental Assessment Sourcebook, Vol. 3, World Bank Technical Paper #154) The guideline says: “The onus is on proponents to show the unavailability of alternatives.”
We submit that a 229 page report of Asian Development Bank (ADB) titled “India: Preparing the Bihar Urban Development Project—Environmental Impact Assessment for Bhagalpur Water Supply”, Project Number: 7106 prepared for Urban Development and Housing Department, Government of Bihar in June 2011 at page no. 94 deals with Asbestos Cement (AC) Pipes. It reads: “An additional, particularly acute health risk presented by this subproject derives from the fact that, the existing water supply system may comprises partially AC pipes, so there is a risk of contact with carcinogenic material if these pipes are uncovered in the course of the work.”
Unmindful such a background the status of asbestos based factories in Bihar is as under:
1) 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. This has been suspended temporarily. The Hon’ble Chief Minister met a delegation on February 13, 2013 in Patna at his residence and has assured them that he is also opposed to such hazardous plants.
2) Chennai based Ramco Industries Ltd has two plants of 1,20,000 MT/Annum Capacity of Asbestos Cement Sheet Plant and 2 Lakh MT/Annum Capacity of Cement Grinding Plant at Industrial Area, Bihiya, Bhojpur. It faces consistent opposition from the residents of Bihya. They have given memorandum to the District Magistrate against it. The aggrieved persons have complained to the Chairperson, Bihar State Pollution Control Board as well.
3) Chennai based Nibhi Industries Pvt. Ltd for establishment of the One Lakh MT Capacity Asbestos Fiber Cement Corrugated Sheet, Flat Sheet and Accessories and Light Weight Fly Ash Block Plant at Industrial Growth Centre, Giddha, Koilwar, Bhojpur. This has been taken on lease by Utkal Asbestos Limited (UAL), the company whose proposal for the plant has been stopped by the villagers in Vaishali. Paryavaran Swathya Surkasha Samiti, Koilwar has been protesting against this hazardous plant. It has given memorandum to the District Magistrate against it.
4) Andhra Pradesh based Hyderabad Industries Ltd for establishment of 2,50,000 MT per year capacity Asbestos Cement Sheeting Plant in two Phases at Kumarbagh Industrial Area, West Champaran. This plant too faces protest. There is a case against this proposed plant in the lower court.
5) Kolkata based Balmukund Cement & Roofings Ltd for establishment of 1.5 Lakh MT capacity production unit of Asbestos Fiber Cement Sheet (Corrugated/Flat) and Accessories at Chainpur-Bishunpur, Marwan, Muzaffarpur. This has been stopped following bitter opposition by villagers for 2 years. Bihar State Human Rights Commission announced the fact that the plant has been wound up.
6) Rajasthan based A Infrastructure Ltd for establishment of 1, 25, 000 MT per year capacity Asbestos Cement (A.C.) Sheet and 1,00,000 MT per year capacity A.C. Pressure Pipe at Pandaul Industrial Area, Madhubani is proposed.
We submit that Bihar Government must be made to adopt a policy of zero tolerance against asbestos based industrial projects. All the locations where asbestos plants are proposed are simmering with discontent. These hazardous projects must be abandoned.
We demand that Government of Bihar should also set up a compensation fund to provide compensation to the asbestos victims of past exposure by making asbestos based companies liable for knowingly exposing workers, consumers and citizens to asbestos fibers.
We wish to inform you that Bihari migrant workers who are involved in the shipbreaking industrial on Alang beach, Bhavnagar, Gujarat are routinely exposed to asbestos fibers. You will be setting a very healthy precedent if you can create a database of these workers so that Government of Bihar can pursue the case of legal and medical remedy for these workers who are bound to suffer from asbestos related incurable diseases.
We submit that the State Government can express its sensitivity towards migrant workers who work in hazardous industries in other States by creating a database of such workers so that when they are found to be suffering from occupational diseases, the Government can demand from the concerned companies and the relevant States.
In view of the above, it is quite clear that there is a compelling logic for Bihar’s Ministry of Environment & Forests to revise its views which are bringing disrepute to State especially among world’s scientific and medical community.
We will be happy to share more relevant document and information in this regard.
ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA)
Phone: +91-11-2651781, Fax: +91-11-26517814
ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA)
Phone: +91-11-2651781, Fax: +91-11-26517814