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Letter to PM and Mrs Gandhi on why white chrysotile asbestos is a hazardous substance

Written By Krishna on Monday, May 13, 2013 | 8:05 AM

ToxicsWatch Alliance


Dr Manmohan Singh
Prime Minister
Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA)
Government of India
New Delhi

Mrs Sonia Gandhi
National Advisory Council
Government of India
New Delhi

Date: May 13, 2013

Subject: White chrysotile asbestos is a hazardous substance

Dear Dr Singh and Mrs Gandhi,

This is to draw your attention towards the volte face in matter of hazardous white chrysotile asbestos by the Indian delegation at the sixth meeting on UN's Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade which concluded on May 10, 2013. In a bizarre act the delegation claimed that the domestic studies by National Institute of Occupational Health (NIOH), Ahmedabad show no hazards from white chrysotile asbestos. I had written a letter to the head of the Indian delegation arguing why India needs to support inclusion of white asbestos in the UN list of hazardous substances. Indian laws include asbestos in the list of hazardous substances but the Indian delegation took a diametrically opposite position revealing undue influence.  

I submit that according to the most recent International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) Monograph on asbestos (IARC 2009), “there is sufficient evidence in humans for the carcinogenicity of all forms of asbestos (chrysotile, crocidolite, amosite, tremolite, actinolite, and anthophyllite).” IARC is part of the World Health Organization (WHO).

I submit that a letter of Shri B N Mehta, the then Chief Inspector of Factories, Gujarat State dated December 24, 2002 in the matter of execution of the order of Supreme Court in Writ Petition (Civil) No. 206 of 1986 categorically reveals that two workers of Gujarat Composites Ltd were confirmed for Asbestosis, an incurable lung disease by NIOH. The workers were (1) Shri Hazarilal Manraj and (2) Shri Sahejram B Yadav. The letter recommended compensation of Rs 1 lakh as per the Court order but till date the same has not been given. This and many such cases conclusively establish the hazards from asbestos. Influence of the asbestos industry becomes quite obvious when Government turns a blind eye to such glaring official facts.  This is also a clear case of contempt of court by the asbestos based company. It may be noted that Gujarat Composite Ltd (formerly named Digvijay Cement Company) appears to be attempting to hide behind myriad corporate veils by changing names and by outsourcing its work. This is what the industry did in more than 50 countries but failed to avoid the inevitability of ban on all kinds of asbestos including white asbestos. The attached letter demonstrates that asbestos is a hazardous substance which causes asbestos related incurable diseases.     

I submit that Indian delegation’s position with regard to asbestos is contrary to Indian laws in practice. Asbestos is listed as a hazardous substance under Part II of Schedule-I
 of the Manufacture, Storage and import of Hazardous Chemical Rules, 1989 under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 provides the List of Hazardous and Toxic Chemicals. This list has 429 chemicals, asbestos is at the serial no. 28 in the list. This Rule and the list is available on the website of Union Ministry of Environment & Forests.
Its url is: http://envfor.nic.in/legis/hsm/hsm2.html http://envfor.nic.in/legis/hsm/hsm2sch1.html

Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), under Union Ministry of Environment & Forests, Govt. of India prepared in September, 2008 with a foreword September 24, 2008 by Shri J. M. Mauskar, the then Chairman, CPCB and Additional Secretary, Union Ministry of Environment & Forests lists ‘asbestos’ at serial no. 26 as one of the 180 hazardous chemicals in international trade which is imported in India.  This was done pursue of Government of India’s “Manufacture, Storage, and Import of Hazardous Chemicals (MSIHC) Rules, 1989” under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. According to these Rules, any person responsible for importing hazardous chemicals in India is to provide the data of import to the concerned authorities, as identified in Column 2 of Schedule 5 to the Rules. The CPCB “has been identified as one of such Authorities. In order to study the inventory of Hazardous Chemicals being imported by various categories of industrial units in India, the data provided by these industrial units to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) have been compiled.” It is scandalous as to why did the Indian delegation took a position inconsistent with the Manufacture, Storage, and Import of Hazardous Chemicals (MSIHC) Rules, 1989. The CPCB’s inventory is attached.

I submit that under Factories Act, 1948, the List of 29 industries involving hazardous processes is given under Section 2 (cb), Schedule First, asbestos is mentioned at serial no. 24.  The Act defines "hazardous process" as “any process or activity in relation to an industry specified in the First Schedule where, unless special care is taken, raw materials used therein or the intermediate or finished products, bye-products, wastes or effluents thereof would--(i) cause material impairment to the health of the persons engaged in or connected therewith, or (ii) result in the pollution of the general environment”.  This leaves no doubt that asbestos is a hazardous substance. The Act is available at:
I submit that the Indian delegation was joined by supporters of asbestos industry. It is quite apparent that the industry representatives overwhelmed the government representatives who were made to take position against human health and the environment and to put profit of the asbestos industry before gnawing public health concerns.

I submit that earlier, on June 22, 2011 Indian delegation led by Ms. Mira Mehrishi, Additional Secretary, had supported the listing of Chrysotile asbestos as a hazardous chemical substance at the fifth meeting on Rotterdam Convention amidst standing ovation.

I submit that I had taken the opportunity of congratulating you and your government but this about turn is a sad let down. I have learnt from officials and scientists who go to such meetings that they feel humiliated when the industry representatives give them directions instead of the senior government officials or ministers. The UN meet on hazardous chemicals creates a rationale for insulating government officials from undue and motivated industry influence else they will be obliged to act like parrots. The role of Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) in such matters must factor in far reaching implications for public health before defending the indefensible hazardous asbestos industry. The day is not far when members of CCEA too will be held liable for their acts of omission and commission as is happening in more than 50 countries that have banned all kinds of asbestos.  
I submit that the Chemical Review Committee of Rotterdam Convention has recommended listing of white chrysotile asbestos as hazardous substance despite that it has not been included in the list for the fourth time. Chrysotile asbestos represents 100% of the global asbestos trade and, over the past one hundred years, 95% of all asbestos traded was chrysotile asbestos. There is an overwhelming scientific consensus that all forms of asbestos, including chrysotile asbestos, are hazardous to health. But for the past many decades, the asbestos industry covered up and denied the scientific evidence that all asbestos can cause disease and death. As a consequence, millions of people have lost their lives and continue to lose them. There is a case going on against the white asbestos in the National Human Rights Commission, New Delhi wherein the applicant has demanded inclusion of white asbestos in the UN list.  

I submit that if what the Indian delegation has been made to say at the UN meet is indeed the case then how is it that Union Environment Ministry’s Vision Statement that says, “Alternatives to asbestos may be used to the extent possible and use of asbestos may be phased out”. The vision statement is available on ministry’s website.

I submit that the Terms of Reference (TOR) that is awarded by the Experts Appraisal Committee (EAC), Industrial Project, Union Ministry of Environment & Forests for Chrysotile asbestos based roofing factory asks the project proponent to prepare a “Health Management Plan for Mesothelmia, Lung cancer and Asbestosis related problems in asbestos industries” revealing its hazardous nature.

I submit that given the fact that the delegation represents the voice of Government of India, how does the Indian delegation respond to the concept paper by Union Ministry of Labour presented at the 5th India-EU Joint Seminar on “Occupational Safety and Health” saying "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." It has noted that "Asbestosis is yet another occupational disease of the Lungs which is on an increase under similar circumstances warranting concerted efforts of all stake holders to evolve strategies to curb this menace". The paper is available on Ministry’s website.

May I ask if white chrysotile asbestos is not hazardous why its ban and phase out is recommended?

I submit that the Indian delegation comprised of Shri Ajay Tyagi, Joint Secretary Ministry of Environment and Forests, Ms. Chhanda Chowdhury, Director, Hazardous Substances Management Division, Ministry of Environment and Forests, Mr. Ram Niwas Jindal, Additional Director, Hazardous Substances Management Division, Ministry of Environment and Forests and Mr. Vinod Babu Bommathula, Scientist-D & In-Charge, Central Pollution Control Board, Ministry of Environment besides asbestos industry lobbyists like Mr. Abhaya Shankar, Chairman, Asbestos Cement Products Manufacturers’ Association and Vivek Chandra Rao Sripalle, Director, Safety Health and Environment, Asbestos Cement Products Manufacturers’ Association. The industry’s influence on the delegation is quite manifest. It also merits attention as to whether the industry representatives went to this UN conference on their own expense or government sponsored their visit.

It may be noted that he Competition Commission of India (CCI) is probing alleged cartelisation in the market for asbestos cement sheets, which is mainly used in rural areas for low cost houses and warehouses. The fair trade regulator has said that various factors including high concentration in the market, product homogeneity and “active association of manufacturers” led to the decision of investigating anti-competitive practices in that industry. Competition Commission of India’s investigation arm — Director General (DG) — is looking into the matter.

“The role of the Asbestos Cement Products Manufacturers Association (ACPMA) is under scanner for facilitating the cartel and controlling production volumes and sale prices. “The Commission has taken suo motu cognizance of alleged anti-competitive conduct of ACPMA,” CCI said in its latest quarterly newsletter. It noted that asbestos cement sheets are widely used for roofs in low cost houses, sheds and warehouses. “The market of asbestos cement sheets consists of 20 big firms and 68 manufacturing units, of which top six players hold 87 per cent of the market share,” CCI added. It said the probe was triggered after a reference from the Serious Fraud Investigation Office (SFIO). CCI keeps a tab on anti competitive practices across sectors. This has been reported in business newspapers.  

I submit that on its website ACPMA reveals, “The Asbestos Cement Products Manufacturers Association (ACPMA) is a non-profit organization and is registered with the Registrar of Societies under Indian Societies Act 1860. The Association was formed in 1985 with an objective to aid, stimulate and advise promotion of Chrysotile Asbestos Cement Products (Sheets and Pipes) in India. ACPMA is affiliated to International Chrysotile Association, (ICA), USA. ICA is an international body formed by various country Associations and has a membership of 23 countries prominent being Canada, Brazil, China, Russia, Mexico amongst others. ICA actively represents the interest of Chrysotile Industry world over…”

The website admits, “ACPMA regularly receives from ICA latest information on various technical, scientific and health related issues connected with the safe use of Chrysotile. All such information is disseminated amongst Members and others connected with the Industry including Govt. regulatory bodies.” The website refers to its membership stating, “ACPMA currently has 15 Members having 51 manufacturing units located in various States providing direct and indirect employment to approximately 300,000 (Three Lakh) persons and having a gross annual turnover of approx Rs.4500/- crores.” It refers to a URL saying, “To view the list of members alongwith their office address”. The URL shows 18 members instead of 15. These are A INFRASTRUCTURE LTD, ASSAM ROOFING LTD, EVEREST INDUSTRIES LTD, HYDERABAD IND. LTD, JAIPRAKASH ASSOCIATES LTD, SAHYADRI INDUSTRIES LTD, RAMCO INDUSTRIES LTD, TAMILNADU CEMENTS CORPN. LTD, U P ASBESTOS LTD, UAL INDUSTRIES LTD, ‘KONARK MANI UDAY’, VISAKA INDUSTRIES LTD, STURDY INDUSTRIES LTD, VILSON ROOFING PRODUCTS PVT.LTD, NORTH EAST ROOFING LTD, ARL INFRATECH LTD, SRI VENKATESWARA PIPES LTD, ROOFIT INDUSTRIES LTD and MRK PIPES LTD.

I submit that the question which merits attention is how is it that these profit making companies when they become members of the Asbestos Cement Products Manufacturers Association (ACPMA) turn into “a non-profit organization and is registered with the Registrar of Societies under Indian Societies Act 1860”. Essentially, its claim of being a non-profit NGO is factually incorrect. This appears to be an act of fraudulent representation.

I submit that instead of letting ACPMA undertake the exercise of defending the profit making enterprises of these hazardous asbestos based companies, concerned ministries must consider asking each of these companies to file submissions about the environmental and occupational health status of the workers in their factories and the health records of the workers who have retired in compliance with the Hon’ble Supreme Court order of 1995.
I submit that briefing me about the goings at the UN Meet in Geneva, Dr Barry Castleman, a noted expert of asbestos who has worked with WHO and World Bank in an email communication from Geneva informed, "The Indians distinguished themselves by objecting to the listing of chrysotile, Paraquat and PFOA. There were 2 representatives of the asbestos industry from India there.  The gov spokesman insisted that there was a study from NIOH that showed things were OK in the Indian asbestos industry and bristled when I told him that was scandalously influenced by the asbestos industry" on May 8, 2013. It may be noted that Supreme Court’s judgment of January 27, 1995 in the Writ Petition (Civil) No. 206 of 1986 that directed Government of India “to review the standards of permissible exposure limit value of fibre/cc in tune with the international standards reducing the permissible content as prayed in the writ petition referred to at the beginning. The review shall be continued after every 10 years and also as and when the ILO gives directions in this behalf consistent with its recommendations or any Conventions”. This judgment quotes Dr Castleman’s book, Asbestos: Medical and Legal Aspects.

I wish to draw your attention towards this judgment. The Hon’ble Supreme Court in its judgment dated January 21, 2011at paragraph 14 said: 
                       “....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 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 that seeks elimination of all kinds of asbestos. 

I submit that in a related development, on April 2, 2013 in a precedent-setting decision, the Israel's High Court of Justice rejected a petition on against a law placing substantial financial responsibility on a company to clean up asbestos waste. The order observed, “In recent years, countries throughout the world have been required to deal with different dilemmas related to protecting the quality of the environmental.  A substantial portion of these dilemmas involve, among other things, legal, economic and ethical considerations. Amongst these dilemmas, the removal of hazardous waste – the matter at the heart of the present appeal – is a subject that demands significant attention.  Asbestos, in particular, has proved itself to be efficient and strong, suitable for many uses.  However, it has become clear with time that its ability to cause damage immeasurably outweighs its potential benefits.  Since the 20th century, different states have dealt with this matter of how to clean up the environment from asbestos, and onthe questions of who to impose the responsibility and who to require to pay for the implementation.  Consequently, I have found it appropriate to first turn our perspective on the relevant legal regimes in a few key countries beyond our borders.”  It ruled that "To conclude, the survey presented (of various international legal perspectives) indicates various and complimentary components.  In all instances it appears a consensus has been established, certainly so with regards to materials hazardous by their very nature such as asbestos, that substantial responsibility is to be imposed on the pollutant."

I am also attaching the text of the speech of Justice (retd) Rekha Kumari, President of the Mahavir Cancer Institute and Research Centre, Patna which was delivered at the Conference on Environmental and Occupational Health at A N Sinha Institute for Social Studies which underlines how Hon’ble Court’s order for incorporating ILO’s fresh resolution has not been complied with to protect public health.  

I submit that in March 2011, while on a visit to New Delhi, Dr Alec Farquhar, the then Managing Director, Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers, Canada said, “We now have around 500 asbestos cancer cases every year in Ontario from a population of 13 million. If you (India) continue on your current path, you will multiply our death count by 100 times. That would be 50, 000 Indian workers dying every year from asbestos. In Ontario, we learned that safe use of asbestos is impossible. I urge you from the bottom of my hear, please do not make the same mistake as we made in Canada. Stop using asbestos and use a safe alternative.” It is clear that lack of documentation and lack of environmental and occupational health infrastructure does not mean lack of victims of asbestos related diseases.

In such a backdrop, documents unearthed under the Right to Information Act revealed how white chrysotile asbestos industry added Rs. 16 lakh to the government’s Rs. 44 lakh for  a study titled ‘Implementation of Rotterdam Convention on Prior Informed Consent Procedures — Study of Health Hazards/Environment Hazards Resulting from the Use of Chrysotile Variety of Asbestos in the Country’ by NIOH to “specifically indicate how technology has made working conditions [in asbestos factories] better.” The minutes of the Review Committee for the NIOH study obtained through the RTI application dated December 19, 2006, read: “The report will be finalised after due discussions with the asbestos industry.” Another meeting minutes, dated April 18, 2007, report that “...the results of the study which was under way could not be shared [with public] till the same was finalised.” A letter dated April 24, 2006 from Under Secretary to the Government of India, Dept. of Chemicals and Petrochemicals, Union Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilisers to Director, NIOH: “the deliverables will include generation of data which would justify the safe standards of its usage as also the reasons/rationale justifying its non-inclusion/or otherwise in the PIC ambit…”

I submit that if one takes cognizance of these developments, it is evident that the Indian delegation has committed the sin of belittling India’s stature by citing an admittedly tainted and grossly conflict of interest ridden scientific study that was finalised after discussions with vested corporate interests. This incident creates a compelling logic for a high level probe to ascertain how India’s position was influenced like the NIOH study due to the presence of two representatives in the Indian delegation.

Therefore, given the fact that the decision with regard to India’s position at the UN meeting involves several ministries, I urge you to order an inquiry to comprehend the unsound and unscientific act of the Indian delegation with regard to white chrysotile asbestos to set matters right.    

I will happy to share more information in this regard

Thanking You
Yours faithfully
(Gopal Krishna)
ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA)
New Delhi
Mb: 9818089660

Shri Kamal Nath, Hon’ble Member, Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA)
Shri Sushilkumar Shinde, Hon’ble Member, Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA)
Mrs Jayanthi Natarajan, Hon’ble Member, Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA)
Shri Jairam Ramesh, Hon’ble Member, Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA)
Dr. Farooq Abdullah, Union Minister of New & Renewable Energy
Shri Prakash Karat, General Secretary, Communist Party of India (Marxist)
Shri Suravaram Sudhakar Reddy, General Secretary, Communist Party of India
Shri Sharad Pawar, President, Nationalist Congress Party
Shri Sharad Yadav, President, Janata Dal (United)
Shri Mulyam Singh Yadav, President, Samajwadi Party
Kumari Mayawati, Chairperson, BSP Parliamentary Party
Cabinet Secretary, Government of India 
Chief Minister, Government of Bihar
Chief Minister, Government of Tripura
Chief Minister, Government of Uttar Pradesh
Chief Minister, Government of Tamil Nadu
Chief Minister, Government of Punjab
Chief Minister, Government of Goa
Chief Minister, Government of West Bengal
Chief Minister, Government of Madhya Pradesh
Chief Minister, Government of Odisha
Hon’ble Governor, Government of Jharkhand
Chairman, Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs
Chairman, Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance
Chairman, Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law & Justice
Chairman, Public Accounts Committee
Chairman, Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence
Chairman, Parliamentary Standing Committee on External Affairs
Chairman, Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture
Hon’ble Members of Parliament
Comptroller & Auditor General of India
Lt Governor, Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi
Chief Secretary, Government of Andhra Pradesh
Chief Secretary, Government of Bihar
Chief Secretary, Government of Chhattisgarh
Chief Secretary, Government of Goa
Chief Secretary, Government of Gujarat
Chief Secretary, Government of Haryana,
Chief Secretary, Government of Himachal Pradesh
Chief Secretary, Government of Jammu and Kashmir
Chief Secretary, Government of Jharkhand
Chief Secretary, Government of Karnataka
Chief Secretary, Government of Kerala
Chief Secretary, Government of Madhya Pradesh
Chief Secretary, Government of Maharashtra
Chief Secretary, Government of Orissa
Chief Secretary, Government of Punjab
Chief Secretary, Government of Rajasthan
Chief Secretary, Government of Tamil Nadu
Chief Secretary, Government of Uttar Pradesh
Chief Secretary, Government of Uttarakhand
Chief Secretary, Government of West Bengal
Chief Secretary, Government of Puducherry
Chief Secretary, Government of Arunachal Pradesh
Chief Secretary, Government of Assam
Chief Secretary, Government of Manipur
Chief Secretary, Government of Meghalaya
Chief Secretary, Government of Mizoram
Chief Secretary, Government of Nagaland
Chief Secretary, Government of Sikkim
Chief Secretary, Government of Tripura
Chief Secretary, Government of Andaman and Nicobar (UT)
Administrator, Government of Dadra and Nagar Haveli (UT)
Administrator, Government of Daman and Diu (UT)
Administrator, Government of Lakshadweep (UT)

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