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Parrots of Environment Ministry repeated whatever industry said at UN Meet in Geneva

Written By Krishna on Wednesday, May 15, 2013 | 10:25 AM

Parrots of Environment Ministry repeated whatever industry said at UN Meet in Geneva

Government should order a probe to ascertain how the ministry was overwhelmed by asbestos industry  

Advisory Committee of Union Ministry of Labour yet to submit its report on banning asbestos

New Delhi, May 15, 2013: In a letter to Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh and Chairperson of National Advisory Council, Mrs Sonia Gandhi, ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA) has exposed how Indian delegation’s position at the sixth meeting on UN's Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade which concluded on May 10, 2013 with regard to asbestos is contrary to Indian laws in practice. The letter dated May 13, 2013 is attached.
Indian delegation feigned ignorance about the fact that asbestos is listed as a hazardous substance under Part II of Schedule-I of the Manufacture, Storage and import of Hazardous Chemical Rules, 1989 under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 provides the List of Hazardous and Toxic Chemicals. This list has 429 chemicals. Asbestos is at the serial no. 28 in the list. This Rule and the list is available on the website of Union Ministry of Environment & Forests.

Indian delegation comprised of Shri Ajay Tyagi, Joint Secretary Ministry of Environment and Forests, Ms. Chhanda Chowdhury, Director, Hazardous Substances Management Division, Ministry of Environment and Forests, Mr. Ram Niwas Jindal, Additional Director, Hazardous Substances Management Division, Ministry of Environment and Forests and Mr. Vinod Babu Bommathula, Scientist-D & In-Charge, Central Pollution Control Board, Ministry of Environment besides asbestos industry lobbyists like Mr. Abhaya Shankar, Chairman, Asbestos Cement Products Manufacturers’ Association and Vivek Chandra Rao Sripalle, Director, Safety Health and Environment, Asbestos Cement Products Manufacturers’ Association. The industry’s influence on the delegation’s stance is quite manifest. It also merits attention as to whether the industry representatives went to this UN conference on their own expense or government sponsored their visit. Asbestos Cement Products Manufacturers’ Association (ACPMA) which accompanied the delegation is facing a probe by Competition Commission of India (CCI) after a reference from the Serious Fraud Investigation Office (SFIO). CCI has said in its quarterly newsletter that “The market of asbestos cement sheets consists of 20 big firms and 68 manufacturing units, of which top six players hold 87 per cent of the market share”. The newsletter is available here: http://www.cci.gov.in/Newsletter/Newsletter_Dec.pdf   

Had ACPMA not overwhelmed the Indian delegation, the Indian position would have been in keeping with its Inventory of Hazardous Chemicals Import in India that lists ‘asbestos’ at serial no. 26 as one of the 180 hazardous chemicals in international trade which is imported in India. This inventory was prepared by Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), under Union Ministry of Environment & Forests, Govt. of India prepared in September, 2008 with a foreword September 24, 2008 by Shri J. M. Mauskar, the then Chairman, CPCB and Additional Secretary, Union Ministry of Environment & Forests This was done pursue of Government of India’s “Manufacture, Storage, and Import of Hazardous Chemicals (MSIHC) Rules, 1989” under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. According to these Rules, any person responsible for importing hazardous chemicals in India is to provide the data of import to the concerned authorities, as identified in Column 2 of Schedule 5 to the Rules. The CPCB “has been identified as one of such Authorities. In order to study the inventory of Hazardous Chemicals being imported by various categories of industrial units in India, the data provided by these industrial units to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) have been compiled.” It is scandalous as to why did the Indian delegation took a position inconsistent with the Manufacture, Storage, and Import of Hazardous Chemicals (MSIHC) Rules, 1989. The CPCB’s inventory is attached.

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:

Indian delegation was joined by supporters of asbestos industry and made the government representatives take a position against human health and the environment and to put profit of the asbestos industry before gnawing public health concerns.

Earlier, 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. TWA had taken the opportunity of congratulating the government but this about turn is a sad let down.

It is reliably learnt that officials and scientists who go to such UN meetings feel humiliated when the industry representatives give them directions instead of the senior government officials or ministers. The UN meet on hazardous chemicals creates a rationale for insulating government officials from undue and motivated industry influence else they will be obliged to act like parrots. The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) must factor in the far reaching implications for public health before defending the indefensible hazardous asbestos industry. The day is not far when members of CCEA too will be held liable for their acts of omission and commission as is happening in more than 50 countries that have banned all kinds of asbestos.  
In keeping with Indian laws when the UN’s Chemical Review Committee of Rotterdam Convention recommended listing of white chrysotile asbestos as hazardous substance it is incomprehensible as why Indian delegation opposed its inclusion in the UN list. The only explanation appears to be the fact that the Indian government delegation did not have a position independent of the asbestos industry’s position which has covered up and denied the scientific evidence that all asbestos can cause disease and death.

There is a case going on against the white asbestos in the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), New Delhi wherein the applicant has demanded inclusion of white asbestos in the UN list. On behalf of the Union Ministry of Environment & Forests, Shri R B Lal, Deputy Director has submitted its reply to the NHRC. The reply did not disclose that the delegation of Government of India led by Ms. Mira Mehrishi, Additional Secretary had announced its agreement to the inclusion of chrysotile asbestos in the list of hazardous chemicals paving the way for its “phase out” as envisioned in Union Environment Ministry’s Vision Statement amidst standing ovation. This reply to NHRC chose to maintain deafening silence about its own Vision Statement that says, “Alternatives to asbestos may be used to the extent possible and use ofasbestos may be phased out”.   

Meanwhile, an Advisory Committee of Union Ministry of Labour has been set up to implement Hon’ble Supreme Court order issued 15 years ago on January 27, 1995 and repeated on January 23, 2012. Although more than 1 year and four months have passed but the Advisory Committee headed by Shri A C Pandey, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Labour is yet to submit its report to incorporate specific directions of the Court with regard to fresh ILO’s Resolution of June 14, 2006 introducing a ban on all mining, manufacture, recycling and use of all forms of asbestos.

Early industry-funded studies showed a causal relationship between asbestos exposure and cancer. Had this been made known to the public it could have prevented countless deaths but the asbestos industry made the conscious decision to protect their profits instead and choose to keep this information hidden from the public. India’s asbestos industry is following the same path.  

As a consequence, although millions of Indian lives are being lost and millions are being exposed to the killer fibers of white chrysotile asbestos, no government agency or company is being held liable due to political patronage.

While on a visit to New Delhi, Dr Alec Farquhar, the then Managing Director, Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers, Canada said, “We now have around 500 asbestos cancer cases every year in Ontario from a population of 13 million. If you (India) continue on your current path, you will multiply our death count by 100 times. That would be 50, 000 Indian workers dying every year from asbestos. In Ontario, we learned that safe use of asbestos is impossible. I urge you from the bottom of my heart, please do not make the same mistake as we made in Canada. Stop using asbestos and use a safe alternative.” 

It is clear that lack of documentation and lack of environmental and occupational health infrastructure does not mean lack of victims of asbestos related diseases.

For Details: Gopal Krishna, ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA), Mb: 9818089660, E-mail: gopalkrishna1715@gmail.com, Web: www.toxicswatch.org
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