Patna/New Delhi: Bihar State Pollution Control Board (BSPCB)’s cancellation order revoking the ‘No Objection Certificate’ given to Kolkata based Utkal Asbestos Limited (UAL) Industries Ltd for setting up of a hazardous asbestos factory in the fertile agricultural land of Vaishali’s Chaksultan Rampur Rajdhari near Panapur in Kanhauli Dhanraj Panchayat in Goraul block has been challenged by the company in the Patna High Court.
With this “challenging the order of the Chairman (BSPCB), is now the core of issue”, as per High Court’s order. Now asbestos company’s petition CWJC No.4802 of 2013 filed against the Bihar Government has been replaced by CWJC No. 9064 of 2013. The company is represented by Senior advocate Binod Kanth and the BSPCB is represented Mr. Shivendra Kishore and State Government is represented by Lalit Kishor, Principal Additional Advocate General.
BSPCB's cancellation order has been filed in the Patna High Court. The matter will be heard again on July 11, 2013.
In a bizarre act the company is arguing that the concern shown by the BSPCB with regard to siting of industrial risk is misplaced although BSPCB has done the right thing by citing its battery limit of “a distance of minimum 500 meters from the National/State Highway, Railway line, river and human habitation” to outlaw the proposal of the asbestos company in question. Such arguments are an exercise by the company to undermine the gnawing anxiety about risk and hazardous consequences underlined by World Health Organisation and International Labour Organisation. The court may have to take recourse to pre-existing orders of the superior courts in India and elsewhere and its legal imagination to outlaw industrial risks from hazardous factories. The least it can do is not to expect communities around the hazardous industrial risk to become superior risk bearers.
When defending the indefensible asbestos factory becomes a compulsion. Judicial and institutional disasters like the one witnessed in the factory of Union Carbide Corporation (UCC)’s hazardous pesticide plant become the order of the day. It may be noted that UCC was in asbestos business as well and as a consequence its current owner Dow Chemicals Company has earmarked 2.2 billion US Dollars for compensation to the victims of asbestos related diseases caused due to the acts of omission and commission by the UCC.
Villagers under the banner of Khet Bachao Jeevan Bachao Jan Sangharsh Committee (KBJBJC), Vaishali are bitterly opposed to the asbestos based factory which is banned in more than 50 countries. Besides this WHO and ILO has called for the elimination of all kinds of asbestos because its safe and controlled use is impossible.
In a related development in yet another complaint filed with the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), New Delhi, it has been stated that former asbestos mine workers living in the remote hamlets of the Aravali have been denied justice by the Rajasthan Government and the National Institute of Occupational Health (NIOH), Ahmedabad It is stated that “NIOH confirmed that 18 of the original 164 examined were suffering from asbestosis. But the NIOH did not share the detailed report with the patients or their families and the medical diagnosis and diagnostic reports like x-rays, sputum test, blood test till date. It is further stated that “since 2008, 22 asbestos workers have died and Homa Mana is the latest victim who was confirmed case suffering from asbestosis by NIOH died on 01.05.2013.”
The complainant has prayed for action on the following points:
1. The remaining 18 asbestosis victims who are alive (including the widow of Homa Mana should immediately be given an adequate relief amount)
2. NIOH should hand over the diagnostic report (X-rays, sputum test, blood test) of the 18 asbestosis cases to the patients themselves.
3. Action against NIOH for gross violation of medico-human rights of those medically examined but denied diagnostic reports
4. Release the original report of the 93 suspected of asbestosis by NIOH in 2007
5. Ensure that Ministry of Mines acknowledges the Asbestosis report and ensures that there is a complete ban on asbestos mining and usage of asbestos across India
6. Medical examination of the former 200 asbestos mine workers by the Pneumoconiosis Board, RNT Medical College, Udaipur
In this Case No 11505/20/29/2013/UC, NHRC has issued notices to the Chief Secretary, Rajasthan, District Magistrate, Udaipur and the Director, NIOH on June 25, 2013 seeking replies and Action Taken Reports within six weeks.
This notice in the Case No 11505/20/29/2013/UC specifically refers to the role of your ministry as it has asked NHRC to “Ensure that Ministry of Mines acknowledges the Asbestosis report and ensures that there is a complete ban on asbestos mining and usage of asbestos across India.”
In another related case (2951/30/0/2011/UC) NHRC had sent a notice related to asbestos related diseases to the Chief Secretary of Government of Bihar. A reply dated August 13, 2012 was sent to the Secretary, Environment & Forests Department, Government of Bihar (under Modi) was shared with the NHRC. This reply submitted that at present there are two units of asbestos sheet manufacturing plants are established in Bihiya and Giddha in Bhojpur district in Bihar. It maintained a studied silence about the proposed asbestos based plant in Vaishali although it was given environmental clearance on February 23, 2012.
It is noteworthy that Rajasthan Government has withdrawn its request for lifting of ban on asbestos mining.
Earlier, Bihar Chief Minister, Nitish Kumar had informed a delegation of left leaders and villagers on February 13, 2013 that he was not in favour of hazardous asbestos plants in the State but due to differences within the cabinet it managed to get the approval. It is noteworthy that Bhartiya Janata Party leader Sushil Kumar Modi was the Environment Minister and who openly batted for the asbestos plants unmindful its disastrous impact on public health in the State Assembly.
As Bihar Environment Minister Modi failed to note that Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) reports also categorically admits to the relationship between exposure to asbestos and diseases like mesothelioma, asbestosis and lung cancer. He feigned ignorance about the views of Chairman, Bihar Legislative Council (BLC) regarding asbestos hazards although he is a member of BLC.
Meanwhile, Bhojpur District Magistrate has sent his report on the illegalities and irregularities committed by Utkal's Asbestos plant in Giddha after a site visit to the Chief Secretary in compliance of their order This plant commenced without ant public hearing. Paryawaran Swasthya Suraksha Samiti, Koilwar has been campaigning against the asbestos plants of Bhojpur’s Bihiya besides the Giddha. In Bihiya, Tamil Nadu based Ramco Industries is illegally operating two plants adjacent to Mahathin Mai temple although it has permission for only one amidst protest by local villagers.
ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA) demands that the Government should stop the hazardous asbestos based plants in Bhojpur as it has done so in Muzaffarpur and Vaishali and pave the way for Bihar to become the first State to declare itself asbestos free.
For Details: Gopal Krishna, ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA), Mb: 8227816731, 09818089660, Web:www.toxicswatch.org, E-mail:firstname.lastname@example.org
Ajit Kr Singh, Convener, Khet Bachao Jeevan Bachao Jan Sangharsh Committee
(KBJBJC), Vaishali, Mb: 09931669311, E-mail:email@example.com
Ravindra Prasad Singh, Khet Bachao Jeevan Bachao Jan Sangharsh Committee
(KBJBJC), Vaishali, Mb: 8986980751
Abhimanyu Sharma, Advocate, Patna High Court, Mb: 9631290074
Dharmatma Sharma, Paryawaran Swasthya Suraksha Samiti, Koilwar, Mb:9852302366