Utkal Asbestos Industries Ltd is setting up a white Asbestos Fibre Cement Corrugated Sheets Manufacturing Plant in Vaishali in Bihar.
The villagers have been protesting against the proposed blant of hazardous white asbestos, which is capable of causing cancer. However, the state pollution control board has ignored the concerns of the villagers.
Gopal Krishna, an enironmental activist and a public policy anaylist, has written to the Bihar human rights commission in this regard.
Please find the full text of the letter below:
Hon’ble Mr. Justice S. N. Jha,
Bihar Human Rights Commission
Subject-Winding up of asbestos plant in Muzaffarpur & setting up of hazardous white asbestos fiber cement sheet projects in Vaishali
This is with reference setting up of hazardous asbestos based plant in Rampur-Rajdhari, Chaksultan (near Panapur), Block-Goraul, Vaishali and your attached File No. 55/11 revealing the winding up of hazardous asbestos based plant in Chainpur-Bishunpur, Marwan Block, Muzaffarpur, Bihar. ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA), a research and advocacy group welcomes the closure of the toxic factory.
I wish to inform you that Shri Ram Pukar Rai and Shri Ajeet Singh of Khet Bachao Jeevan Bachao Sangharsh Committee Rampur-Rajdhari, Chaksultan (near Panapur), Vaishali shared case of human rights violation of villagers of Goraul Block due to threat of exposure from cancer causing fibers from the proposed asbestos plant at a 2-day conclave in New Delhi organised by Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) during 24-24 February 2012.
I submit that the testimony of Shri Ram Pukar Rai and Shri Ajeet Singh underlined that the fake green clearance granted to Asbestos Fibre Cement Corrugated Sheets Manufacturing Plant (2,50,000 TPA) being set up by UAL Bihar (Utkal Asbestos Industries Ltd) for which asbestos fibers will be imported from countries like Canada and Russia. They informed the 150 participants from about 100 organisations across the country that a fake public hearing was held on the basis of a 4 page EIA report. The 283 page complete EIA report which is ridden with falsehoods was never shared with the villagers. Although there is documentary evidence in the EIA report itself that the plant site is an agricultural land but it claims that it’s a barren land. There are several villages and schools in the vicinity but its maps do not show them.
It is surprising that although human biology of people of Muzaffarpur and Vaishali is the same, it is strange that the plant in the former district has been wound up but the same is being allowed to be set in the latter district.
I submit that Commission ought to take note of ten crucial national and international developments with regard to hazards from asbestos of all kinds including white asbestos with documentary proof:
1) Judgment of the Italian Criminal Court dated February 12, 2012 convicting owners of an asbestos company
2) Vision Statement on Environment and Human Health of Ministry of Environment & Forests
3) Notice of the National Human Rights Commission dated July 6, 2011 sent to Chief Secretary, Bihar Government
4) New Delhi Declaration Seeking Elimination of all forms of Asbestos including White Asbestos from India, March 2011
5) Government of India’s decision at UN’s 5th Conference of the Parties (COP5) to the UN’s Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade held in Geneva during June 20-24, 2011 wherein it agreed to the inclusion of chrysotile asbestos (white asbestos) in the list of hazardous chemicals paving the way for its ‘phase out’
6) Order of the Kerala Human Rights Commission dated January 31, 2009 on ‘asbestos roofs’,
7) Health Management Plan for Mesothalmia, Lung cancer and Asbestosis related problems in asbestos industries (Term of Reference of Experts Appraisal Committee, Industrial Projects),
8) Factsheet of World Health Organisation (WHO) and ILO Resolution
9) Union Ministry of Labour\\\’s Concept Paper on Plan to Ban Asbestos
10) NHRC Member\\\’s concern for use of carcinogenic asbestos roof by Union Rural Development Ministry in Indira Awas Yojna
I submit that these developments will help comprehend the matter of human rights violations from the proposed hazardous white asbestos fiber cement sheet projects in Vaishali.
I submit that European asbestos billionaires Mr Stephan Schmidheiny and Mr Baron Luis de Cartier have been fined and sentenced to 16 years gaol by an Italian criminal court for deliberately failing to warn workers, families and residents about the dangers of asbestos. Reference:http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-02-14/billionaires-sentenced-to-16-years-gaol-for/3828540 (1)
I wish to draw your attention towards the Union Environment Ministry’s 19 page Vision Statement on Environment and Human Health (Para 4.3.1) on page 12 which reads: “Alternatives to asbestos may be used to the extent possible and use of asbestos may be phased out”. Reference: Environment Ministry’s website: moef.nic.in/divisions/cpoll/envhealth/visenvhealth.pdf. (2)
I submit that the National Human Rights Commission has taken cognizance of various incurable diseases caused by white asbestos and the request for grant of a compensation package for present and future victims of Asbestos diseases. The Commission has issued notice to Chief Secretary, Government of Bihar. NHRC Notice attached. (3)
I submit that the Annual Report of NHRC 2003-2004 refers to a Report entitled “Asbestos – Health and Environment – an in-depth Study “submitted by the Institute of Public Health Engineers, India. The study underlines that safe and controlled use of asbestos is not possible. I submit that NHRC has passed an order in Case No: 693/30/97-98 recommending that the asbestos sheets roofing be replaced with roofing made up of some other material that would not be harmful.
I submit that the New Delhi Declaration Seeking Elimination of all forms of Asbestos including Chrysotile from India was adopted and endorsed by world renowned eminent scientists and doctors in March 24, 2011. The declaration is attached. (4)
I wish to inform you that the Government of India’s delegation at the UN Conference in Geneva agreed to the listing of chrysotile asbestos in the Annex III of the Rotterdam Convention which is the Prior Informed Consent (PIC) list of hazardous substances on June 22, 2011. The turnaround came at a contact group meeting which was set up for discussion on chrysotile asbestos also known as white asbestos as they member groups of the convention could not agree upon a consensus. However, when India announced its stand it was applauded and it received a standing ovation at the plenary. The UN’s Chemical Review Committee had recommended the listing of white asbestos on the grounds of WHO findings that asbestos was a hazardous substance harmful to human health and environment; it had also stated that PIC was especially important for developing countries which have weak legal and institutional structures for addressing hazardous materials. The deliberations are available at www.pic.int (5)
I submit that Justice N Dhinakar, the Kerala State Human Rights Commission (KSHRC) made three recommendations banning use of asbestos roofs in its order dated January 31, 2009. The recommendations are: “
a) The State Government will replace asbestos roofs of all school buildings under its control with country tiles in a phased manner.
b) The Government will take steps to see that the schools run under the private management also replace the asbestos roofs with country tiles by fixing a time frame.
c) The Government should see that in future no new school is allowed to commence its functions with asbestos roofs.”(6)
I submit that these recommendations are relevant for Bihar as well and it is natural to expect that the Bihar State Human Rights Commission will take cognisance of it.
It is germane to note that Terms of Reference (TOR) that was awarded by the Experts Appraisal Committee, Industrial Project, Union Ministry of Environment & Forests to the project proponents for white asbestos based roofing factories state that they should prepare a “Health Management Plan for Mesothalmia, Lung cancer and Asbestosis related problems in asbestos industries.” Till date this has not been done. (7)
This underlines that the opposition of the villagers is quite justified on the ground that the proposed hazardous white asbestos fiber cement sheet project causes incurable fatal diseases.
I wish to inform you that the World Health Organization (WHO) re-iterates that the most efficient way to eliminate asbestos-related diseases is to stop the use of all types of asbestos and specifically states that its strategy is particularly targeted at countries still using chrysotile asbestos. The factsheet notes that “more than 107 000 people die each year from asbestos-related lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis resulting from occupational exposure.” The relevant factsheet is asbestos available at: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs343/en/index.html The ILO resolution seeking elimination of chrysotile asbestos is attached. (8)
It is not surprising 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." 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". A concept paper by Union Ministry of Labour revealed this at the two-day 5th India-EU Joint Seminar on “Occupational Safety and Health” on 19th and 20th September, 2011. Reference: http://www.labour.nic.in/lc/Background%20note.pdf (9)
I wish to draw your attention towards the fact that asbestos cement based building materials are being used in the Union Rural Development Ministry’s Indira Awas Yojna, this will have grave public health consequences. It is sad that central government’s definition of roofing material includes asbestos cement sheet along with Reinforced Brick Concrete and timber etc as per Union Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation. I submit that unmindful of the impending health crisis, the asbestos cement manufacturers are celebrating thrust given by the central government on rural housing through Indira Awaas Yojana because asbestos cement product sector derives sizeable portion of its demand from rural housing sector and remaining demand from industrial sheds. Central government’s Rs 10, 000 crore worth annual housing flagship scheme, Indira Awaas Yojana endangers the rural poor as its is using carcinogenic asbestos sheets to keep the cost below the ceiling of Rs 45,000 per house under the scheme. The National Human Rights Commission member, Shri Satyabrata Pal, a retired 1972 batch IFS officer has raised questions on the hazards as per a news report (Country’s flagship housing scheme turning out to be a debt trap, Iftikhar Gilani, Dec 26, 2011, DNA). (10)
Your immediate intervention can stop the crisis from assuming serious proportion.
It is due these concerns that asbestos of all kinds is banned in 55 countries. In India, mining of all kinds of asbestos is technically banned too besides trade in asbestos waste but its trade, manufacturing and use is yet to be banned. A considered step in Bihar would pave the way for all the states to follow.
It is deeply saddening to note that despite bitter opposition from villagers, their views and concerns are being ignored by the State Pollution Control Board which is to blatantly disregarding all the seven issues raised above including the Vision Statement on Environment and Human Health of the Union Environment Ministry with regard to asbestos.
I wish to inform you that villagers of Vaishali will make any sacrifice to stop the killer asbestos plant amidst their locality, which is akin to a ticking time bomb. In the light of the above referenced facts and the Vision Statement on Environment and Human Health of Union Environment ministry and NHRC notice in particular, we request you to put a moratorium on white asbestos based industrial projects in Bihar to safeguard the human rights of present future generations because asbestos fibers are lethal through its life cycle and even after its end of life. This action will enhance the prestige of the Commission and the State.
In Muzaffarpur, the asbestos plant has been stopped due to unprecedented resistance of the villagers of Marwan Block and the Chief Minister’s Secretariat had ordered an inquiry into it in the backdrop of police firing and lathi charge. I submit that asbestos danger is lurking for the villagers of Vaishali and the Commission can set a healthy precedent by stopping it.
I wish to meet you with all the relevant reference documents at the earliest along with the villagers to apprise you of the hazardous environment that is emerging due to the setting up of such universally established toxic plants that poses indiscriminate threat to residents of these villages.
Gopal Krishna (Convener)
ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA)