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NHRC examining reports filed by governments, industry on banning use of white asbestos

Written By Gopal Krishna on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 | 3:01 AM


New Government in Delhi must initiated steps to make Delhi free of victims of asbestos diseases

Taking a pro-people stand, Government of Bihar has stopped the construction of asbestos plant in Vaishali

January 14, 2014: As of today National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) is examining reports filed by governments, industry on banning use of white asbestos. The attached information from NHRC reveals its present status.   
Taking cognizance of a complaint alleging death of thousands of people every year in the country due to incurable asbestos related cancer and other diseases, NHRC had issued notices to the Secretaries of Ministries of Chemical Fertilizers, Environment and Forest, Health and Family Welfare, Industry and Commerce, Labour and Chief Secretaries of all the States/Union Territories calling for status reports on the issues raised in the complaint in 2011. Now that the status reports have been filed, the NHRC is considering the same.
NHRC's intervention has been sought for a ban on the use of Chrysotile Asbestos (White Asbestos), which is hazardous for the health of people and causes various incurable diseases. The white Asbestos is a fibrous material used for building roofs and walls and various in other forms.
Government’s position on the issue is contradictory. Although the mining of Asbestos has technically been banned by the government it is allowing its import and that too from the countries which do not prefer its domestic use.

Notably, 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).

The Supreme Court orders of 1995 and 2011 categorically refer to studies that have established proven relation between asbestos exposure and incurable lung cancer. Even World Bank and Asian Development Bank documents underline the carcinogenic risks of asbestos fibers besides WHO and ILO. White asbestos is admittedly a hazardous chemical substance for environment by a number of countries in the world. ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA), the complainant has also requested NHRC for grant of a compensation package for present and future victims of asbestos diseases.

NHRC can teach is a lesson to 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 at http://moef.nic.in/divisions/cpoll/envhealth/visenvhealth.pdf

Concerned authorities in Bihar should note 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.

But Government of India, State Governments and Union Territories are yet to comply with the Supreme Court's order of January 27, 1995 and January 21, 2011. Its directions were
reiterated in Jan 21, 2011 order. The attached Labor Ministry's Advisory Committee for compliance merits urgent attention. All the central ministries and State Governments have to comply in a similar format.

Hon'ble Supreme Court's directions in its judgement dated January 21, 2011 is contained in paragraph no.s 14. The paragraph 14 of the Hon'ble Supreme Court's order reads as under:
                       "14. In the matter relating to secondary exposure of workers to asbestos, though the grounds have been taken in the Writ Petition without any factual basis, again in the Rejoinder filed to the counter affidavit of respondent No.37, this issue has been raised by the petitioner
in detail. 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. "
The Hon'ble 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 reply on behalf of Secretary, Medical Education & Research, Chandigarh Administration has categorically submitted the following to the National Human Rights Commission, New Delhi in the Case No.2951/30/0/2011:"a. White Asbestos (Chrysotile Asbestos) is implicated in so many studies with the following diseases:-Mesothelioma (Cancer of Pleura), Lung Cancer, Peritoneal Cancer, Asbestosis, And also consider as cause of following cancers:-Ovarian
Cancer, Laryngeal Cancer, Other Cancer b. Diseases are produced in the person involved in Asbestos Industry."
The reply dated May 29, 2012, Shri Piyush Singh, Joint Secretary, Government of Uttarakhand in Case No.2951/30/0/2011, has submitted to the NHRC a document Medline Plus Trusted Health Information for You, U.S. National Library of Medicine and the prescription of National Institutes of Health (NIH) highlighting the Treatment stating: "There is no cure. Stopping
exposure to asbestos is essential."
A 14 page joint document of WHO and ILO titled "Outline for the Development of National Programmes for Elimination of Asbestos-Related Diseases" reads: The 58th World Health Assembly urged Member States to pay special attention to cancers for which avoidable exposure is a factor, particularly exposure to chemicals at the workplace and the environment. Asbestos is one of the most important occupational carcinogens causing about half of the deaths from occupational cancer.
In May 2007, the 60th World Health Assembly endorsed a global plan of action on workers' health 2008-2017 in which Member States requested the WHO Secretariat to include in its activities "a global campaign for elimination of asbestos-related diseases - bearing in mind a differentiated approach to regulating its various forms - in line with the relevant international legal instruments and the latest evidence for effective interventions." WHO's assistance to countries to eliminate asbestos-related diseases will therefore be particularly targeted to those Member States that still use chrysotile asbestos, in addition to assistance in relation to exposures
arising from historical use of all forms of asbestos. WHO, in collaboration with ILO and with other intergovernmental organizations and civil society, will work with countries towards elimination of asbestos-related diseases in the following strategic directions:
- by recognizing that the most efficient way to eliminate asbestos-related
diseases is to stop the use of all types of asbestos;
- by providing information about solutions for replacing asbestos with safer
substitutes and developing economic and technological mechanisms to stimulate its replacement;
- by taking measures to prevent exposure to asbestos in place and during asbestos removal (abatement);
- by improving early diagnosis, treatment, social and medical rehabilitation of asbestos-related diseases and by establishing registries of people with past and/or current exposures to asbestos."

In view of the above, it is quite clear that there is a compelling logic for the central government and the Ministry of Health and Environment & Forests to initiate elimination of asbestos based products and to decontaminate building of asbestos fibers.  
In a remarkable move, Government of Bihar has stopped the construction of asbestos plant in Vaishali honoring villagers' struggle against the hazardous plant proposed by West Bengal based Utkal's asbestos based factory resisting pressure from asbestos industry. In Odisha's Bargarh villagers have stopped the construction of a similar plant. 
New Government in Delhi should take immediate steps to make Delhi free of victims of asbestos related incurable disease by making the capital city asbestos free.
For Details: Gopal Krishna, ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA), Phone: +91-11-2651781, Fax: +91-11-26517814, Mb: 09818089660 E-mail: gopalkrishna1715@gmail.com, Web:www.toxicswatch.org

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