Asbestos factory demolished in Vaishali, 55 countries have banned asbestos

Asbestos factory demolished in Vaishali, 55 countries have banned asbestos

Villagers demand health impact study, WHO, ILO have called for elimination of asbestos

Bihar’s Mahuwa-Hazipur Road blocked by villagers for nine hours       

Patna/New Delhi December 16, 2012

Bitter resistance against the cancer causing asbestos based plant of West Bengal based company Utkal Asbestos Limited (UAL) and the insensitivity of the government towards the fatal threat of asbestos fibers to villagers resulted in the blockade of 12 km stretch of Mahuwa-Hazipur Road in Bihar from 6 O’ clock in the morning to 3 O’ clock in the afternoon. The road remained blocked for 9 hours. Reacting to the construction activity with the help of anti-social elements who have been hired by the company, outraged villagers demolished the boundary walls of the killer plant.   

The blockade was lifted only after the District administration led by SDO Jyoti Kumar and Uma Shankar Prasad, District Development Commissioner visited the site to assure that no construction will be allowed by them and their demands will be forwarded to the chief minister, Bihar.  The District Administration also suggested that a delegation of villagers should meet the Chief Minister for permanent closure of the plant. 

102_4196Villagers are demanding that the Chief Minister should take cognizance of the incurable diseases caused by white asbestos. It is high time he intervened to stop any asbestos plant from being set up in the State. Villagers of Vaishali’s Chaksultan Ramppur Rajdhari near Panapur in Kanhauli Dhanraj Panchayat of in Goraul block had organized a Mahadharana against the proposed white asbetsos plant of Utkal Asbestos Limited (UAL) company in their village on June 14, 2012. They have been protesting against the fake public hearing and faulty environmental clearance. They had organised a public meeting against the plant in this regard on May 1, 2012 as well wherein district officials were also present. The District Administration had stopped the construction. The administration had a tripartite meeting on October 10, 2012 but the company failed to satisfy the villagers with its misleading claims. Even DM found the company’s claim about water consumption in their report questionable. There was no satisfactory response from the company. He asked them to present a report about their proposed water consumption in the factory which the company fraudulently claims to be a ‘barren’ land although the land records reveal that these are agricultural lands.   

World Health Organization (WHO) and International Labour Organisation (ILO) have called for the elimination of asbestos in 2005 and 2006 respectively. Source: WHO FactSheet on Elimination of Asbestos-related Diseases It is noteworthy 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 19-20th September, 2011. (Reference: http://www.labour.nic.in/lc/Background%20note.pdf).

Bihar Government to pay heed to the recommendations of Kerala State Human Rights Commission (KSHRC) 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. These recommendations are relevant for Bihar as well. It underlines the need for banning use of asbestos roofs in the State. In a related development, Bihar State Human Rights Commission (BSHRC) had announced that the white asbestos plant that was under construction in Chainpur-Bishunpur village, Jakhra Sheikh Panchyat, Marwan block of Muzaffarpur has been wound up. The relevant File Note 45/11 Justice S N Jha Chairman, BSHRC is also noteworthy.

National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has also ruled that keeping human beings under asbestos roofs constitute the violation of their human rights. At present it is examining the issue of incurable asbestos related diseases among workers, their families and communities where asbestos factories are situated besides the consumers.

Bihar Government should inform the Union Environment Ministry about its own 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”. The same is available at moef.nic.in/divisions/cpoll/envhealth/visenvhealth.pdf. It is quite contradictory that while Central Government is planning to ban asbestos and phase it out and some asbestos companies are switching over to manufacturing alternative building materials still it is giving environmental clearance to new asbestos factories in agricultural lands of Bihar.  

Asbestos producing countries like Canada, Russia, Kazakhstan, China and Brazil have are dumping their asbestos to user countries like India. Interestingly, Canada has a no home use policy. In India, asbestos mining is technically banned. Trade in asbestos waste (dust and fibers) is banned but the process of banning trade, manufacturing and use of white asbestos is held because of the corporate influence of the asbestos companies over ruling parties.

There are grave concerns about asbestos exposures resulting in public health crisis world over. This has compelled 55 countries to ban use of asbestos. In the absence of environmental and occupational health infrastructure, the passivity of the state governments cannot be deemed acceptable given the fact that health is a State subject.

Earlier, a delegation of villagers of Khet Bachao Jeevan Bachao Jansagharsh Committee met Chairman, Bihar State Pollution Control Board (BSPCB) and submitted a memorandum demanding permanent stoppage of the construction of lung cancer causing proposed white asbestos based factory by West Bengal based Utkal Asbestos Limited (UAL) in Goraul block of Vaishali in a residential area.

 Contact: Gopal Krishna, ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA), Mb:09818089660 (Delhi), 08002263335 (Patna), E-mail:krishna1715@gmail.com

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