TWA demands investigation into corruption in grant of NOC to Bhojpur’s asbestos plants in Giddha and Bihiya
August 20, 2013: Bihar State Pollution Control Board (BSPCB) is adopting double standards in the matter of cancellation of Consent to Establish-cum- No Objection Certificate (NOC) given to asbestos companies in Bhojpur and Vaishali. World Health Organisation (WHO) and International Labour Organisation (ILO)
In the meanwhile, Ramco asbestos company’s factory continues to refuse to share the health records of workers with them, the strike by workers in Bhojpur’s Bihiya has entered 19th day amidst demand for the closure of killer asbestos factory as it poses threat to villagers in its vicinity. The workers were also on hunger strike too from August 13, 2013 to August 17, 2013.
A team comprising of reporters and researchers from Patna and Delhi visited the site of worker’s strike on August 13, 2013 and were shocked to find asbestos waste spread around the villages. The workers informed the team that they have not been informed about the incurable diseases caused by asbestos fibers although asbestos companies make the claim to do so in their Environment Impact Assessment Reports.
Communist Party of India (CPI)-[Marxist-Leninist]-Liberation’s Bihia unit secretary Uttam Kumar sat on dharna from July 22 to 24 July, 2013 demanding closure of the asbestos factory as one of its key demands. Earlier also the workers of these factories were on strike on July 30, 2012 demanding medical attention. This was communicated by Block Development Officer, Bihiya, Bhojpur on August 1, 2012 to Sub Divisional Officer, Jagdishpur, Bhojpur.
In contempt of Supreme Court’s order dated January 27, 1995, the company is not maintaining and maintaining the health record of every worker, not conducting Membrane Filter test to detect asbestos fibre and not insuring health coverage to every worker. It is reliably learnt that the company does not have qualified occupational health doctors to undertake these tasks. The company should be asked for a list of workers employed in the factory, their health records and the qualification of the doctor assigned to undertake their health checkup.
In a letter to Chairman, Bihar State Pollution Control Board (BSPCB), Communist Party of India (CPI)-[Marxist-Leninist]-Liberation has demanded the closure of Bhojpur’s asbestos based factories because it is manifestly in violation of BSPCB’s own guidelines applicable against location of hazardous asbestos factories in the areas of human habitation. They have also demanded that the proposed asbestos factories in West Champarana and Madhubani too should not be allowed in public interest. Their letter is attached.
The letter observes how 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 a asbestos company. The same should be applied to asbestos based toxic factories in Bhojpur. The letter has demanded copies of the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) reports of these companies.
No amount of sophistry by the companies operating in Bhojpur and some officials in BSPCB can undermine the gnawing anxiety about risk and hazardous consequences underlined by WHO and ILO. The BSPCB should take recourse to pre-existing orders of the Supreme Court and its legal imagination to outlaw industrial risks from these hazardous factories. It cannot expect communities in villages around the hazardous industrial units of Ramco Industries in Bihiya and Utkal Asbestos Limited in Giddha to become superior risk bearers unlike villagers of Muzaffarpur and Vaishali where similar plants have been stopped.
When defending the indefensible asbestos factory becomes a compulsion, 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 too 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. Bihar Government should set up a compensation fund for victims of asbestos related diseases. It should set a similar fund for decontamination of asbestos laden public buildings like State’s legislatures and courts.
In Bhojpur’s Bihiya, there is a proposal to set up a 120, 000 MT/Annum capacity of Asbestos Cement Sheet Plant and 200, 000 MT/Annum capacity of Asbestos Grinding Plant. The total project area is 20 acres and land is allotted by the state government on lease for 90 years. On 10th May, 2010, the project was discussed by the Experts Appraisal Committee (EAC), Industry, Union Ministry of Environment & Forests. In the minutes of the EAC, there explicit reference to "Health Management Plan for Mesothalimoa, Lung cancer and Asbestosis related problems in asbestos industries". The plant being established by Tamil Nadu based Ramco Industries Ltd. Bihar'S State Investment Promotion Board (SIPB) had cleared its establishment on 23rd November, 2009 with a total investment of Rs 60.20 crore.
In Bhojpur's Giddha village in Koilwar, Tamil Nadu based Nibhi Industries Pvt. Ltd had established the 100, 000 MT Capacity Asbestos Fiber Cement Corrugated Sheet, Flat Sheet and Accessories and Light Weight Fly Ash Block Plant. They failed to run it and has handed over the plant to West Bengal based Utkal Asbestos company on lease which expires in September 2013.
ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA) demands that the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) report s of these factories should be uploaded on BSPCB’s website.
These companies procure asbestos from countries like Canada which have a n home use policy. This is happening because of an incestuous relationship between ruling parties in Bihar, India, Quebec, Canada and the asbestos producers. Other asbestos producing countries include Russia, which is India’s biggest supplier.
In a related case (2951/30/0/2011/UC) National Human Rights Commission 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 by BSPCB which 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 revealed that the latter was not working. Its clearances have expired and a show cause notice was issued to the plant. It maintained a studied silence about the asbestos factory’s operations by Utkal Asbestos Limited.
The BSPCB has stated in its affidavit in an ongoing case in Patna High Court that BSPCB’s “Board has delegated powers to the Chairman with the Authority to grant/refuse/withdraw/consent both in respect of the Water & Air Acts subject to the condition that the list of consent applications granted/refused/withdrawn is placed in the meeting of the Board.” It further contends that “unless the petitioner (the company) conforms to the siting criteria of the Board’s Guidelines, question of consideration of application for its renewal on its own does not arise.” TWA demands that the same should be made applicable to the factories based in Bhojpur.
Supreme Court has examined the carcinogenicity of “ASBESTOS (mesothelioma and lung cancer)” in the Consumer Education & Research Centre Vs Union Of India & Others on 27 January, 1995 and observed that “In man the link of lung cancer with asbestos has been mainly epidemiological. while asbestosis cannot occur without exposure to asbestos mad consequently every case of asbestosis must be linked with such exposure, with pulmonary cancer the situation is quite different. It is a rather common disease in the general population. The link with exposure to asbestos is based on finding whether in those exposed to asbestos is based on finding whether in those exposed to asbestos bang cancer occurs more frequently than in those unexposed, i.e. whether in those exposed there is an excess incidence of lung cancers.”(1995 AIR 922, 1995 SCC (3) 42)
TWA demands probe in grant of NOC to Bhojpur’s asbestos plants in Giddha and Bihiya merits probe in view of the recent development.
Status asbestos factories in Bihar
1) Chennai based Ramco Industries Ltd for establishment 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
2) 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, Ara, Bhojpur. This has been taken on lease by Utkal Asbestos Limited. Its lease is due to expire in September 2013.
3) 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
4) 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.
5) 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. Its NOC has been cancelled but the company has filed a case against the Bihar Government, villagers’ committee and TWA. TWA is facing a fake case filed by the company as well.
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. Earlier it was proposed in Industrial Area, Kumarbagh, Bettiah
Bihar Govt must be made to adopt a policy of not approving asbestos based industrial projects. All the locations of asbestos based plants are also simmering with discontent.
For Details: Gopal Krishna, ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA), Mb: 08227816731, 09818089660, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, www.toxicswatch.org