Grant of environmental clearances to asbestos plants in contempt of Supreme Court’s Order
CPCB endorses Bihar Pollution Control Board (BSPCB)’s Guidelines against asbestos factories
BSPCB's cancellation of permission for asbestos based factory vindicated
Compensation fund needed for victims of asbestos related diseases
October 25, 2013: In contempt of Supreme Court’s judgement dated January 27, 1995, the MoEF continues to grant environmental clearance to asbestos based companies despite the fresh resolution of International Labour Organisation seeking elimination of asbestos which has been endorsed by the Court. This has been reiterated by the Court in its judgement dated January 21, 2011. While this is true in almost all the States, on October 28, 2013 Patna High Court is all set to examine the legality of environmental clearance given to such plants in Bihar.
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)
In a report submitted to the Patna High Court, Committee of Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) has endorsed the Bihar State Pollution Control Board (BSPCB)’s Guidelines against siting of hazardous industries like Utkal asbestos company. Unfortunately, the Committee has cited irrelevant paragraphs of the judgement dated January 21, 2011. Sadly, Committee of Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) is relying on the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) report of Shiva Test House, Patna, the consultant of the project proponent, Utkal Asbestos Industries (UAL) instead of BSPCB's Guidelines or MoEF's ToR both of which underline the need for avoiding a hazardous asbestos factory if within a minimum distance of 500 meter there are habitations, state highway etc. Although the entire plant is a source of emission of lethal asbestos fibers that cause incurable cancer, the Committee of CPCB has done the measurement from just one point in an explicit case of bias. The Draft critique of the Committee of CPCB’s report is attached. The report was submitted on October 7, 2013.
The BSPCB’s Guidelines provide a battery limit of “a distance of minimum 500 meters from the National/State Highway, Railway line, river and human habitation” that outlaws setting up of asbestos based factories.
Citing this very Guidelines, BSPCB’s had issued an order dated April 16, 2013 cancelling the Consent to Establish-cum- No Objection Certificate (NOC) given to a asbestos based unit of Utkal Asbestos Limited (UAL) in Vaishali.
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 becomes 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. 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.
TWA demands probe in grant of NOC and environmental clearance to Bhojpur’s asbestos plants in Giddha and Bihiya. The EC given to the proposed asbestos based factory in Vaishali also merits probe in view of the recent developments.
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 in a complaint filed by ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA). 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. High Court in its order dated August 19, 2013 has taken cognisance of violations of BSPCB's Guidelines by these two factories as well. BSPCB had revealed that the Giddha based asbestos plant 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 in Vaishali. High Court's intervention in public interest necessitated that the Committee of CPCB should have visited these two plants as well but it failed to do so. The fate of these plants besides the one proposed in Vaishali depends on the hearing of October 28 before the High Court bench of Justice J. N Singh.
High Court’s order is likely to pave the way for Central and Bihar Govt to adopt a policy of not approving asbestos based industrial projects as is happening in more than 50 countries.