Make India Asbestos Free

Make India Asbestos Free
For Asbestos Free India

Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI) works for Asbestos Free India inspired by trade union leader Purnendu Majumadar. Occupational Health India and ToxicsWatch Alliance are its members that includes doctors, researchers and activists. BANI demands criminal liability for companies and medico-legal remedy for victims. It works with trade unions, human rights, environmental, consumer and public health groups. For Details:1715krishna@gmail.com, oshindia@yahoo.in

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Canadian & Indian Right to Information Act exposes asbestos truths

Indian Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilisers commissioned the National Insti-tute of Occupational Health (NIOH), a premier research institute under the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), to conduct a study titled Implementation of Rotterdam Convention on Prior Informed Consent Procedures- Study of Health Hazards / Environment Hazards resulting from use of Chrysotile Variety of Asbestos in the country.

The study was commissioned in 2004 in the light of the proposed inclusion of chrysotile (popularly known as white asbestos) in the Prior Informed Consent (PIC) list of the Rotterdam Convention, which was recommended in 2005 and 2006 by the Chemical Review Committee of the Convention. On the face of it, the Government’s decision to base its position on science is laud-able.

However, documents obtained through the Right to Information (RTI) Act reveal that the Government is conducting the study merely to justify its position that white asbestos does not pose an unmanageable risk. The made-to-order study, partly funded by the asbestos industry, is being tweaked by a review committee some of whose members are representatives of the asbestos industry. At no point in the study will members of public, workers’ organizations or in-dependent physicians be allowed to comment.

Information gained using Canadian Right to Information corroborates the same. The Information Commissioner of Canada informed, “Canada is working with other countries to promote chrysotile asbestos. The Indian government has worked diligently in cooperation with the Indian Asbestos Information Centre (AIC) and the Canadian
Asbestos Institute.” Canadian High Commission in India says, “A ruling which states that subjecting a worker to asbestos is a violation of human rights could have far reaching consequences whether or not it is binding". It also notes, “AIC is of the belief that problems with safe use of asbestos will arise in the unorganised sector.

These include small manufacturers who cannot afford to either install the equipment necessary to safely use asbestos or invest in the health needs of their workers.” AIC accepts that “unorganised sector does use imported products that they acquire through agents.” It is noteworthy that Indian Government consults and trusts this very AIC in matters related to continued use of chrysotile.

The information is dated March 4, 2003, from Natural Resources Ministry of Canada. It was given under Access to Information Act

Information made available shows that Second Secretary (Commercial), Canadian High Commission in India has been in correspondence with Ministry of Environment, Labour, Commerce on asbestos issue. He has arranged bilateral meetings between the Ministers too in the past specifically "to discuss[tongue]romotion of the safe-use of chrysotile asbestos and confirm India's continued market access and policy approach (controlled-use) re chrysotle asbestos".

Second Secretary (Commercial) Canadian High Commission in India is quoted as saying, "I realise that Kolkota looks like .....(blackned) but as Kolkota is the real centre of mining in India this where the private participation will be greatest. Equipment manufacturers will be welcomed in Eastern India and getting an audience out will not be a problem. The State of Jharkhand has asked the delegation to stop in Ranchi. I have adivised that this is unlikely but we will be in Kolkata. They seemed keen to travel to this city if this is what will take to meet the delegation. The coal companies can make site visits and the asbestos producers may want to meet with the local infrastructure groups as the use of AC cement is controversial in this state."

The High Commission suggested that the minerals/mining group go to Hyderabad before Calcutta. If the use of AC cement is controversial , it may be worthwhile looking as something similar there.

In one letter written by Second Secretary (Commercial) Canadian High Commission in India, he informs, " I met with Brigadier Sethi of Asbestos Information Centre (AIC)..."

He was informed the outcome of the April 11, 2002 meeting where Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI) was formed. It reads, "Most of the articles have headlines similar to the Times of India story saying that Experts are calling for the banning of asbestos in manufacturing, mining, etc"

"Be advised that the Courts in India are much more interventionist than in Canada. It is entirely possible that the High Court could issue the injunction and stop the use of asbestos. Eventually the matter would reach the Supreme Court but there is no predicting the outcome."

The Brigadier also told me that a similar petition has been with the National Human Rights Commission. He does not seem concerned about this because the NHRC is a non-binding body. I advised that a finding stating that subjecting a worker to asbestos is a violation of human rights could have far reaching consequences whether or not the ruling is binding. I think that it may be necessary at some point to prepare an advocacy campaign to counter the arguments of the NGOs"

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