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After ban on liquor, Bihar all set to join developed countries by making the State free of asbestos based factories

Written By Gopal Krishna on Monday, August 22, 2016 | 10:14 PM

 After more than five years of struggle, Bihar pollution control board has cancelled permission to all the 6-7 asbestos plants including the ones in Bhojpur

Patna/New Delhi: With Bihar State Pollution Control Board (BSPCB) cancelling the No Objection Certificate given to the asbestos factory units of Tamil Nadu based Nibhi Industries Pvt Ltd and Ramco Industries, Bihar is all set to be free of asbestos based factories like more than 50 countries that have banned production, use, manufacture and trade of the hazardous mineral fiber, Asbestos. These countries are: Nepal, Algeria, Czech Republic, Iceland, Malta, Seychelles, Argentina, Denmark, Ireland, Mozambique, Slovakia, Australia, Egypt, Israel, Netherlands, Slovenia, Austria, Estonia, Italy, New Caledonia, South Africa, Bahrain, Finland, Japan, Norway, Spain, Belgium, France, Jordan, Oman, Sweden, Brunei, Gabon, South Korea, Poland, Switzerland, Bulgaria, Germany, Kuwait, Portugal, Turkey, Chile, Greece, Latvia, Qatar, United Kingdom, Croatia, Honduras, Lithuania, Romania, Uruguay, Cyprus, Hungary, Luxembourg and Saudi Arabia. All the 27 countries of European Union have banned it. There is a logical compulsion based on scientific and medical evidence including resolutions of WHO and ILO to ban asbestos of all kinds including white asbestos to save life and health of Indians. 
While the successful protests were underway in Muzaffarpur and Vaishali three asbestos plants got set up in Bhojpur district because of localization of media. The Bhojpur media was not reporting on the successful anti-asbestos struggle in other districts.
Due to incessant efforts of Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI) and ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA) along with Parwaywarn Bachao Jeewan Bachao Sangharsh Samiti and Parywawarn Swasthya Suraksha Samiti pointing out non-compliance with environmental laws, BSPCB has revoked its emission-consent order and discharge consent order which was valid till 31st March, 2018. Chairman, BSPCB has ordered, the company in question, Tamil Nadu based Nibhi Industries Pvt Ltd. to “close your industrial unit with immediate effect, failing which complaints shall be filed u/ss. 44 of the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 and 37 of the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981.”   This land allotment was considered to be part of the scam that led to an inquiry into allotments by Bihar Industrial Area Development Authority (BIADA).
In Bhojpur's Giddha village in Koilwar block, the 100,000 MT Capacity Asbestos Fibre Cement Corrugated Sheet, Flat Sheet, Accessories and Light Weight Fly Ash Block Plant acquired 15 acres. The plant site is located adjacent to Ara-Koilwar road.
When it was repeatedly pointed out the violations of the general and specific conditions given the environmental clearance and NOC by Ramco Industries, BSPCB’s Chairman took its cognizance. He has issued an order saying, “I therefore, have no option but to treat this unit as a non-compliant industry and am not inclined to renew the Emission-Consent-Order and Discharge-Consent-Order for further period beyond 31.3.2016. The applications for Emission-Consent-Order and Discharge-Consent-Order dated 12.2.2016 are, accordingly, refused.”
 A 120,000 MT/Annum capacity Asbestos Cement Sheet Plant and a 200,000 MT/Annum capacity Asbestos Grinding Plant was set up in Bihiya block of Bhojpur by by Tamil Nadu based Ramco Industries Ltd. It is noteworthy that only 120,000 MT/Annum capacity Asbestos Cement Sheet Plant had the clearance from the BSPCB. The second unit of bigger capacity functions without any clearance. The project was allotted 20 acres by the state government on lease for 90 years. Although the company had approval for only one factory, it has been running two units. It was given approval for only the 120,000 MT/Annum capacity Asbestos Cement Sheet Plant and not it’s 200,000 MT/Annum capacity Asbestos Grinding Plant
The villagers complained against the hazardous factories in their proximity that manufacture chrysotile white asbestos-cement products. The hazardous asbestos waste has been dumped indiscriminately in the adjoining villages and the agricultural fields. When one worker died of asbestos related disease in the Ramco factory, her daughter has filed a case in the human rights commission. The company has given a compensation of Rs 5, 000 in matter of a death of this dead person (mritak ki maut) avoiding to mention his status as a worker and arguing that he was a cook in the factory and not a worker. This case is sub judice with Bihar Human Rights Commission. Workers of this factory have been on strike on several occasions but they have been silenced with the help of unscrupulous local leaders and officials of easy virtue. Local news papers and Patna based newspapers had highlighted the pollution and health related complaints of the villagers. Besides Associated Press a special program of Doordarshan had highlighted the issue of asbestos factory amidst densely populated villages.
 The struggle in Bihar is part of the national and global struggle against trade, manufacture and use of killer fibers of asbestos.
 The companies involved misled the villagers by telling them that agro-based factories will be set up. Initially, when they bought the land they did not disclose that it was for asbestos based factories. When students of 10th and 12th standard found that it was going to be hazardous factory, they pointed out that as per their biology and chemistry text books asbestos causes incurable lung diseases.
 After more than five years of villagers' struggle against lung cancer causing asbestos based plant of West Bengal based Balmukund company in Chainpur-Bishunpur, Marwan block in Muzaffarpur district of Bihar was closed. It had approval for 3 lakh ton per annum capacity. Bitter resistance against the proposal of West Bengal based Utkal Asbestos Limited (UAL) at Chaksultan Ramppur Rajdhari near Panapur in Kanhauli Dhanraj Panchayat of in Goraul block in Vaishali made the Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar intervene after a delegation of leaders from Left parties and anti-asbestos activists met him in this regard. I worked with Khet Bachao Jeevan Bachao Jan Sangarsh Committee of Muzaffarpur and Vaishali to resist the setting up such hazardous plants and represented it in negotiations. Bihar State Pollution Control Board (BSPCB) cancelled the No Objection Certificate given to the UAL company. It had approval for 2.5 lakh ton per annum capacity. This company also operated Giddha, Bhojpur based asbestos factory for some time as well.
 UAL company had filed cases against the State, Khet Bachao Jeevan Bachao Jan Sangarsh Committee and Gopal Krishna making wild allegations in the Patna High Court. The Court asked Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) to constitute a committee to examine the matter. CPCB’s report irrationally favoured the company. Although CPCB tried to exert undue influence on BSPCB, the latter resisted it. High Court allowed the BSPCB to take a decision. After he was presented a memorandum signed by 10, 000 villagers, BSPCB’s Chairman Prof. Subhash Chandra Singh stood his ground against the factory because it had violated the Battery Limit fixed for such hazardous industries. Company representatives compared harmful effects of asbestos exposure to harm from drinking too much alcohol and road accident. This was emphatically rejected by the villagers as quite insensitive.
 Villagers outwitted the corporate media which has been reluctant to publish anti-asbestos stories by wall writing in the villages adjoining the plant demanding halting of the construction of the plant.
The struggle led to stoppage of proposed asbestos based plant of 1.25 lak tons per annum (TPA) capacity in Pandaul, Sagarpur, Hati tehsil in Madhubani. The proposal of 2.5 lakh TPA capacity plant by Hyderabad Industries Ltd in Kumar Bagh, Bettiah, West Champaran has also been stopped. The company has constructed a boundary wall amidst rich agricultural field but faces court cases from villagers.         
 Questions were raised against these plants in Bihar Vidhan Sabha and Vidhan Parishad. Abdul Bari Siddiqui, the then leader of opposition (and current Bihar Finance Minister) raised the issue of hazardous asbestos factories in Vidhan Sabha. In another significant observation Awadhesh Narain Singh Chairperson, Bihar Legislative Council (BLC) and former labour minister said, “buying asbestos is akin to buying cancer” and “pain of asbestos related diseases is worse than the pain of unemployment.” The speech of Chairman, BLC is available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B9TbemRUkYM
 This struggle faced false cases, police action and hooliganism by company supported anti-social elements.   
 Now it will be logical for the State Government to withdraw fake cases against Gopal Krishna and other villagers. These cases were registered in the Police Station in Vaishali in Bihar. This and all related cases must be withdrawn at the earliest. The matter is being heard in the lower court. All these cases because of a case against adverse impact of asbestos in National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) [Case Details of File Number: 2951/30/0/2011] that is being pursued. NHRC issued notices to different Union Ministries, States, Union Territories on the issue of banning use of White Asbestos following complaint by TWA. The industry impleaded itself in the case. Now that NHRC has received the replies from all the State Govts, concerned central ministries and counter replies from TWA, the verdict is on the horizon. In this regard NHRC website says, “The Chief Secretary, Government of Bihar has not yet offered his comments….and sought report (on) whether the directions contained in the judgement of Supreme Court in the WP No 260 of 1986 are being followed in the State.” NHRC "is considering the reports received from concerned authority" as of August 13, 2016. Given the fact that NOC of all the asbestos based factories been cancelled by BSPCB, State Government should apprise NHRC of the cancellation orders.    
 In India, asbestos mining is technically banned and trade in asbestos waste (dust and fibers) is also banned but the process of banning trade, manufacturing and use of white asbestos is held up due to lobbying at the behest of asbetsos producing countries.

Central government’s apathy towards victims of primary and secondary exposure of killer asbestos mineral fibers shows that in the conflict between naked lust for profit and public health, it is choosing to be complicit with the former. The legacy of callousness towards victims of asbestos related diseases refuses to learn lessons from the epidemic of such diseases world over due to past usage of asbestos. Asbestos related diseases have a long incubation period ranging from 5-50 years.    

In a message dated August 13, 2016 for BANI, Prof. Colin L. Soskolne, University of Alberta, Canada Adjunct Professor, Faculty of Health, University of Canberra, Australia Fellow, American College of Epidemiology and Fellow, Collegium Ramazzini pointed out that asbestos related diseases have a long incubation period ranging from "5 - 50" years" which has serious implications. 

 Union Environment Ministry’s Vision Statement on Environment and Human Health reads, "Alternatives to asbestos may be used to the extent possible and use of asbestos may be phased out" but the Experts Appraisal Committee of this very ministry continues to give environmental clearance to such hazardous industries. This is notwithstanding the fact that "The Government of India is considering the ban on use of chrysotile asbestos in India to protect workers and the general population against primary and secondary exposure," as announced in a concept paper by the Ministry of Labour. Both these documents are available on central government’s website but struggle to make Indians safe from deadly exposure of asbestos fibers continues in the face of misinformation campaign of the killer industry.
 After becoming liquor free, now that Bihar is all set to be free of asbestos based factories, one is hopeful that health being a State subject, Bihar will take a lead by banning asbestos procurement and use in the state to pave the way for other state governments and the central government to follow.
 Responding to anti-asbestos struggle Bihar Chief Minister had claimed that he will puncture this industry but the task of decontaminating asbestos laden factory sites, building, preparing a register of victims of asbestos related diseases, creating an inventory of asbestos based products and announcing a compensation fund for victims of fatal diseases remains to be undertaken. It has reliably been learnt that the preliminary work of identifying victims have begun.       
Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI) and ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA) have been pursuing the campaign for a nation-wide for more than a decade to save present and future generation from asbestos related diseases. This effort has received the support of left and some socialist parties.   


 FOR DETAILS: Gopal Krishna, Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI)-ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA), Mb: 08227816731, 09818089660E-mail-1715krishna@gmail.com, Web: www.toxicswatch.org
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