Govt must stop asbestos import from Russia, Kazakhstan & other countries

Gopal Krishna

Gopal Krishna

Gopal Krishna is an activist and associated with ToxicsWatch Alliance, Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI), IMOWatch, MediaVigil & WaterWatch Alliance. He is also researching the corporate crimes in India after Independence. He can be contacted at krishna2777[at]gmail.com.

While asbestos mining is technically banned in the country, in a shocking case of inconsistency India continues to import asbestos from asbestos producing countries like Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Zimbabwe.

Governments of Rajasthan, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka & Jharkhand have filed their reports in an ongoing comprehensive case regarding asbestos exposure related diseases in National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) since 2011 even as the National Green Tribunal asked these governments to file a report on all the asbestos and associated mineral mines, their scientific closure and their overburden on 12th July, 2015. Notably, all the state governments and concerned central ministries have filed their reports in this regard in NHRC case 2951/30/0/2011.

Odisha government claimed that “there is no evidence regarding the death of people due to Asbestos related cancer in Odisha as reported by the Director, Acharya Harihar Regional Cancer Centre, Cuttack.” It did not disclose whether this cancer centre has the competence to diagnose environmental and occupational exposures from asbestos.

Rajasthan government has decided not to demand lifting of ban on asbestos mining anymore. Rajasthan claimed that “no case has been reported about the cancer caused by Asbestos till date in the State.”

Like other states Andhra Pradesh too did not provide health status of the workers who handle asbestos and the communities living in proximity of the asbestos units.

Besides claiming that there is no asbestos mining in the state, Karnataka claimed that its Cancer Registry maintained at M/s KIDWAI Memorial Cancer Hospital, Bangalore, to treat all cases of mesothelioma found no instances of occupational diseases namely asbestosis. It did not reveal whether M/s KIDWAI Memorial Cancer Hospital, Bangalore has the competence to diagnose asbestos related diseases.

The failure of the Jharkhand government to inform NHRC about Roro hills, 20 kilometers from Chaibasa in Singbhum where toxic asbestos waste, the left overs of 70 years of mining is quite stark. The place reeks of tell-tale signs of careless closure and the 14 villages that surround the mountains pay a price for this everyday. The hills in Singhbum were once mined both for asbestos and chromium. For the past two decades, waste from asbestos mining has been lying here and this is flowing into the villages causing havoc as asbestos is a known carcinogen. If there’s one example of sheer corporate and Government negligence, it is this. 0.7 million tonnes of toxic waste is not exactly a playground for children, and for the children of Roro hills, it is an endless hunting ground. They come here to scavenge for iron scraps. The slope of the hill, which is now a powdery slide is used as a giant slide by the children. However, what they don’t know is that such naked exposure to asbestos dust could result in serious diseases like asbestosis, asthama and even cancer. But the sad part of it all is that the toxic waste is too much and too close to be completely avoided by the people here. Roro is a village of former asbestos mine
workers. The past few years alone have reported 10 deaths, all former workers. The wind and the rain carry the toxic asbestos waste downhill, flooding the fields. NHRC provided an opportunity to the State Government to take cognizance of the plight of the 14 villages who are facing exposure of asbestos waste dust and fibers but it has failed to even acknowledge it.

Notably, these states have failed to report whether their states have the environmental and occupational health infrastructure in place to diagnose asbestos related diseases.

It is noteworthy that by letter dated 9th July, 1986  from Union Ministry of Steel, Mines & Coal, Government of India with reference no. 7/23/84-AM-III/AM-VI there is a stay on grant of new mining lease for asbestos mineral and renewal of the leases.

Reiterating the same in June 1993, central government stopped the renewal of existing mining leases of asbestos. The mining activity was banned by Union Ministry of Mines.

As a result at present no permission is being given for new mining lease of asbestos mineral and no lease is being renewed. At present no lease of asbestos mineral is approved/or in force in the country.

It is strange that while mining of asbestos is banned in the country due to adverse health impact, the same is being imported from Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Zimbabwe. It high time government stopped practicing such untenable policies displaying manifest double standards.

Earlier, following opposition by Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Zimbabwe to the listing of White Chrysotile Asbestos, UN Rotterdam Convention’s Seventh Conference of Parties (COP7) in May 2015 agreed to postpone the issue of its inclusion in the list of hazardous substances for consideration by COP8. All the other forms of asbestos are already in the list. Unlike these countries, Inventory of Hazardous Chemicals Import in India prepared by Union Ministry of Environment & Forests, Government of India lists ‘Asbestos’ at serial no. 26 as one of the 180 hazardous chemicals imported in India.

Incidentally, United Nations Committee of Experts on the Transportation of Dangerous Goods classifies Chrysotile Asbestos in Hazard Class and Packing Group, UN number 2590, Class 9 – Miscellaneous dangerous goods and articles. Its International Maritime Dangerous Goods (IMDG) Code is UN No: 2590: Class or division 9.

In a bizarre act while Government of India has technically banned asbestos mining, it continues to allow import and export of asbestos. “In view of the deleterious effect of asbestos mining on health of the workers, the government has ordered the State governments in 1986 not to grant any new mining lease for asbestos (including Chrysotile variety) in the country” as per Government of India’s letter. Government must make India asbestos free by rectifying the irrationality of banning mining of asbestos but continuing its trade.

Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI) and ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA) have been struggling to ensure its inclusion of all kinds of asbestos in the Convention’s hazardous substances list.

BANI

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