Medha Patkar of National Alliance of Peoples’ Movements (NAPM) and Dr Barry Castleman, a world renowned public health expert from California, USA have written to the government of Bihar demanding the permanent closure of asbestos factories in the state.
They have extended full support to the struggle of villagers of Chaksultan Rampur Rajdhari in Vaishali, Bihar against the proposed white asbestos plant of Kolkata based Utkal Asbestos Limited (UAL) company.
Dr Barry Castleman wrote to Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar saying, “As you have learned by now, over 50 countries have banned the use ofall forms of asbestos because of unacceptable dangers to public health. Public reaction to the rampant growth of asbestos use in India has taken the form of Mahadharnas against the construction of new asbestos product factories. Opposition to asbestos use has closed down the asbestos mines in Canada and is on the verge of doing the same in Brazil. This will leave as the major asbestos mining countries only Russia, China, and Kazakhstan. Most of the world has followed the urgings of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the example of the World Bank to stop using asbestos in new construction. Use of asbestos in building homes and workplaces now leaves a legacy of lethal dangers for workers and building occupants for the rest of the century.”
Dr Castleman further stated, “I am writing as a public health worker who has worked as a consultant on asbestos to the WHO and the World Bank, in addition to working with public health advocates in India, in hopes that you will side with the protesting villagers who do not want new factories producing asbestos products built in Bihar. This is enormously important in protecting public health and can serve as an example for the rest of India in reducing the impact of a public health disaster in coming decades.”
Medha Patkar wrote to Navin Kumar, Chief Secretary of Bihar, “Apart from the grave health impacts of white asbestos, there are a number of serious violations by the Utkal Asbestos Limited plant that must be taken into account. It has been falsely shown in its Environment Impact Assessment maps, that barren land has been acquired, when in reality, it is agricultural land that has been used to set up the plant. They have also conveniently left out of their maps, the presence of numerous villages and schools in the area, in order to get clearance! There was no public hearing with the villagers of the area, as is mandatory before the environmental clearance is given. The Khet Bachao Jeevan Bachao Jan Sangarsh Committee [KBJBJC] has been organizing locally against the asbestos plant, highlighting the adverse health impacts of the same.”
She further wrote, “It is important that the government of Bihar takes note of international as well as national resolutions passed against the use of asbestos and implement it effectively at the state level as well. Having said that, I acknowledge that the DM , Mr Jitendra Srivastav has taken prompt action in stopping work at the factory until further orders and has asked that a 15 member committee from amongst the villagers to engage with the administration. The fabricated charges against the peaceful protestors must be condemned and dropped immediately and action be taken against the factory owners and the administrative officials who were responsible for framing false charges against the villagers. I hope you will look into this matter at the earliest and take necessary action in order to ensure that the plant does not violate the rights of local villagers any further, and that social justice accrues.”
Both the letters of Medha Patkar and Dr Barry Castleman were translated in Hindi and discussed in Panapur, Vaishali on June 18 at a meeting of the villagers and members of KBJBJC.
ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA) which works on impact of hazardous industries on human health health and environment is supporting the struggle of KBJBJC along with all the left parties in Bihar including Communist Party of India, Communist Party of India (Marxist), Communist Party of India (ML) Liberation, Socialist Unity Centre of India (Communist), Forward Bloc, Jan Abhiyan, Bihar comprising of Janmukti Sangharsh Vahini, Janwadi Mazdoor Kisan Sabha, Communist Party of India (ML)-SR Bhaiji, Jan Pratirodh Manch, Janwadi Lok Manch, Communist Party of India (ML)-New Democracy, Sarwahara Jan Morcha, MCPI (U) and Communist Party of India (ML). These parties have issued joint statements demanding closure of the asbestos factory and dismissal of fake cases against the villagers.
TWA has issued an appeal to national and international leaders and experts requesting them to ask Bihar Govt to take immediate steps to prevent environmental and occupational exposure to asbestos\\\’ besides non-occupational exposures to asbestos by banning use and manufacturing of white asbestos based products.
TWA feels that the continued silence of Dr. Raghuvansh Prasad Singh, Member of Parliament from Vaishali when his villagers protest against a hazardous plant is deafening and puzzling. Dr Singh, a former Union Rural Development Minister was resoundingly silent even during the villagers’ struggle against a similar asbestos plant in Muzaffarpur despite the fact that his partyman Abdul Bari Siddiqui, Leader of Opposition had raised the issue in the Bihar Vidhan Sabha.
TWA also contends that Bihar Government does not have any strategic approach to chemicals management throughout their life cycle. The way State Investment Promotion Board has allowed hazardous factories like asbestos based plants demonstrates that despite lack of capacity to deal with even the existing asbestos laden buildings and end-of-life asbestos products is starkly myopic and is an invitation for public health disaster.