Arrest of Anti-Asbestos Protesters Condemned
Environmental Clearance Process Questionable
Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI), Asbestos Virodhi Andolan and Nagrik Forum have condemned the arrest of Mr Tarkeshwar Giri and Mr Kumud Ram, leaders of Khet Bachao Jeevan Bachao Jansangarsh Samiti who were coordinating the protest against the construction of toxic asbestos cement plant. The plant is based on Chrysotile (white) asbestos. Balmukund Cement and Roofing Ltd (BCRL) headquartered in Kolkata has indulged in fraudulent misrepresentation in its Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) report by saying that the land acquired by the company is “barren”, the fact is that it’s a very fertile land. The EIA report and the statement of the Nagrik Forum is attached. When the land was being acquired for the factory, the villagers weretold that it is being procured for agro based factory.
Even now the factory site does not have any display board disclosing the purpose for which the construction began. Even the flawed and dishonest Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) report prepared by the project proponent reveals that 29000 tonnes per annum of raw asbestos fiber, a hazardous material will be imported from Canada, Brazil and Zimbabwe. The EIA report talks of good qualities of the killer fiber but hides its disastrous environmental and occupational health effects. The EIA report claims that the dust fibers will be kept below 0.5 fiber/cc but does not disclose that “safe” and “controlled” of asbestos in any form is impossible.
Oblivious of this the EIA report claims:
ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH CRITERIA 203 for Chrysotile Asbestos concludes, “Exposure to chrysotile asbestos poses increased risks for asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma in a dose-dependent manner. No threshold has been identified for carcinogenic risks.” This criteria has been created by United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), International Labour Organisation(ILO)and World Health Organisation (WHO)
Such claims and promises of safe use have been demolished long back even by agencies like World Trade Organisation (WTO)’s Appellate Body and World Bank Group. The Shiva Test House, Patna which did the study for the EIA does reveal cursorily that “Construction site has a potential hazardous environment”, “Asbestos fiber will be used in the plant as a raw material is hazardous in nature, the industry will give information to the workers on hazards associated with asbestos.” There is no evidence to suggest that this has been done. It has ignored the adverse environmental and occupational health impacts of the proposed plant possibly because of the demands of the project proponent. The communities in the vicinity of the plant are denied even this cursory treatment with regard to hazards from asbestos. It is noteworthy that there are no industrial physicians and virtually no environmental and occupational health centres in Bihar. Under the circumstances, preventing the asbestos plant is better than suffering from asbestos related diseases with no possible cure in sight.
BCRL has unleashed a reign a terror against the villagers of Chainpur, Marwan Block, Muzaffarpur in collusion with the block, dub division and district administration who are protesting against a proposed asbestos cement plant in the vicinity of their residential area.
When despite the assurance of the administration, the construction at the plant site was not stopped, an indefinite Dharna was started on December 13, 2010. The factory’s management officials, B K Tiwari, Sanjiv Mishra attacked the villagers along with their private army of 50-60 anti-social people. Following this the administration had fixed 29 December, 2010 as a date for dialogue between the company and the villagers along with experts of asbestos.
Now as per letter of Kundan Kumar, SDO dated 22nd December the scheduled date of the dialogue has now been postponed unilaterally because of direction from higher authorities. The letter seeks written submissions from both the sides by 28th December so that it can consult the Bihar State Pollution Control Board on the issues raised. Similar letter has been sent to the protestors by Amrendar Kumar, Block Development Officer, Marwan, Muzaffarpur, District Administration, Muzaffarpur, Bihar pretends ignorance about The White Asbestos (Ban on Use and Import) Bill, 2009 which is pending the Rajya Sabha.
The Statement of Objects and Reasons of the White Asbestos (Ban on Use and Import) Bill, 2009 introduced on 31 July 2009 captures clearly the global stand on this issue: “The white asbestos is highly carcinogenic even the World Health Organisation has reported that it causes cancer. It is a rare fibrous material that is used to make rooftops and brake linings. More than fifty countries have already banned the use and import of white asbestos. Even the countries that export it to India prefer not to use it domestically. But in our country, it is imported without any restriction. Canada and Russia are the biggest exporters of white asbestos. In 2007, Canada exported almost Ninety five percent of the white asbestos it mined and out of it forty-three percent was shipped to India. It is quite surprising that our country is openly importing huge quantity of a product, which causes cancer. This is despite the fact that safer and almost cheap alternatives to asbestos are available in the country. Instead of importing a hazardous material, it will be better if we spend some money in research and development and use environment friendly product. In view of the above, there is an urgent need for a total ban on the import and use of white asbestos and promote the use of alternative material.”
National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) had 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 to the inmates. 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 exposure to killer fibers of constitute human rights violation of the exposed communities, there is an immediate need to protect the villagers from incurable lung cancer and other diseases. The villagers are bitterly opposed to the asbestos plant that poses a grave threat to their health.
This factory is coming up unmindful of the fact that some 52 countries have banned asbestos. WHO and ILO have called for the elimination of asbestos of all kinds. A serious unprecedented environmental and occupational health crisis in the form of impending asbestos disease epidemic in Muzaffarpur merits serious consideration. Even if one asbestos fibre reaches the right place, it causes irreversible damage - leading to asbestosis, lung cancer or mesothelioma.
Taking note of the fact that public concern, regulations and liabilities involved have ended the use of asbestos from the developed countries, delegates residents of Chainpur, Muzaffarpur wonder, "why is it that the concern of the countries, which have banned asbestos not relevant to Bihar, India?." Exposing communities to asbestos must be equated to murder and legal provisions must deal with it accordingly. How many consumers would want to use the material if they know that even a single exposure can cause cancer? "Experimental as well as epidemiological studies proved asbestos as carcinogen as well as co-carcinogen. Risk assessment and control of occupational exposure are very poor in developing countries like India," said Dr Qamar Rehman, former scientist, Industrial Toxicology Research Centre, Lucknow and currently Dean at the Integral University, Lucknow.
On 16th September, Sub Divisional Officer (SDO) convened a meeting of the representatives of villagers and the factory woner for a dialogue following which the construction at the plant was stopped till further orders. On 14th September, 2010, the construction at the asbestos factory was stopped by the villagers although the company had attempted to start it with the help of huge police force.
On November 6, 2010, the factory owner attempted to start the construction and burnt their won vehicle to lodge false cases against the protestors. The villagers stopped the construction again on 15th November under the leadership of Sachidanand Sinha, a well known socialist thinker. Dr Tarun Mondal, Member of Parliament, Samiti and BANI has written to Jairam Ramesh, Union Environment Minister against the proposed asbestos plant. In response to Dr Mondal’s November 1st letter, Jairam Ramesh has assured that he would take appropriate measures in the matter.
The Samiti was formed in July 2010. On August 11, 2010, the Samiti had given a petition signed by hundred of villagers to the District Administration expressing its grave concerns against the proposed asbestos plant. On 20th August, 2010, All India Krishak Khet Mazdoor Sangathan also protested in front of the Block office against acquisition of agricultural land for hazardous asbestos factory. On 30th August, there was demonstration in front of District Magistrate (DM)’s office. It has become an open secret that the repressive measures of the district administration against peaceful protests of villagers are being undertaken at the behest of the company in question. Dozens of villages in Muzaffarpur district of Bihar have been protesting the construction of an asbestos fibre-cement roofing plant nearby since January, 2010 when work began at the site without the required mandatory environmental clearance.
The Samiti did a Dharana in front of DM office on 4th September. When the DM did not respond despite repeated petitions and protests, thousands of villagers demonstrated in front of the gate of asbestos cement factory on 8th September, 2010. On 13th December, a private army of the factory owner fired upon the non-violent protest of the villagers in connivance of the District administration. Notably, the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report is dated 25th March, 2010. The Hindi translation of the EIA report was not made available and still the the public hearing was held for the project on June 28, 2010.
At the public hearing only the workers of the factory were allowed to speak and the villagers were silenced. The minutes of the public hearing was not read out to the participants of the meeting. The EIA notification, 2006 specifies the proceedings have to be read out in the language understood by the people, after which the agreed minutes are signed by the District Magistrate. Earlier, M K Singh, member secretary, Bihar State Pollution Control Board misled the villagers. Due to protests of the villagers the date and venue of the public hearing had to be changed.
The factory is cited 15 kilometers away from the Muzaffarpur Railway Station and Buri Gandak river is 16 km away from the factory site. The total cost of the project is Rs 31 crore. The company present directors include Nawal Kumar Kanodia, Abhishek Kanodia and Sanjay Jalan.
For Details: Gopal Krishna, Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI), Mb: 07739308480, 09818089660, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, Web: banasbestosindia.blogspot.com
(Photo Credits: Gopal Krishna)
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