National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has passed an order recommending that the asbestos sheets roofing be replaced with roofing made up of some other material. 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. NHRC is currently examining an application to make our country asbestos free at the earliest.
As the quid-pro-quo relationship between Government officials and asbestos businessmen exists outside the media spotlight, journalists and the public remain unaware of the pernicious reasons which motivate the decisions being taken; decisions which will expose current and future generations to the deadly asbestos hazard. Hopefully, the asbestos industry’s blind profit mongering will not succeed in silencing the officials in Bihar. A people’s government will keep public health ahead of commercial interest. The proposed asbestos plants in Bihar are attest case for the same.
It is necessary to initiate preventive action in order to protect present and future generations from asbestos fibers, a silent killer which is akin to a time bomb in the lung.
Asbestos Mukti Andolan
Shoumojit Banerjee, The Hindu
Muzaffarpur (Bihar): An uneasy calm has descended over the village of Bishnupur-Chainpur, currently a hotbed of passionate agitation against a proposed Rs.31-crore asbestos factory to be set up by the Kolkata-based Balmukund Cement and Roofing Ltd (BCRL).
As the impasse between the village residents and the company management continues, environmentalists and asbestos experts over the world are petitioning Chief Minister Nitish Kumar to firmly consign the “killer dust” jinn back into the bottle.
On Wednesday, noted Environmental Consultant and asbestos hazard expert Dr. Barry Castleman addressed letters to Mr. Kumar and Union Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh (copies of which are with The Hindu) drawing their attention to the community resistance in Muzaffarpur over the proposed plant and the repressive measures initiated by the district authorities.
As reported on Tuesday, villagers have been battling the district administration and the BCRL management since July over alleged misinformation on the perceived hazardous fallouts of the proposed Chrysotile asbestos plant in Chainpur.
In his letter to Mr. Kumar, Dr. Castleman, whose testimony contributed significantly to the passage of the Ban Asbestos in America Act of 2007, notes that “there is no such thing as an asbestos plant that does not endanger the surrounding community with pollution from its manufacturing process, its shipments of raw material and products, waste dumps, and the contamination of workers' clothes worn home after work.” The only question in this case was the extent of the peril.
Stating that “profitability” appeared to be the BCRL's raison d'etre in the asbestos business, he warned of the extant dangers in setting up the factory amidst a residential area populated with schools and healthcare centres.
“None of the owners of the planned factory have indicated that they would be willing to move their families into town and buy a home close and downwind from the planned factory,” he mentioned in his letter to Mr. Kumar.
Author of one of the most comprehensive studies on the litigation titled “Asbestos: Medical and Legal Aspects,” Dr. Castleman has questioned the company's assertion that the proposed asbestos-cement plant in Bihar would be operating with “worker exposures at no more than 0.5 asbestos fibers/cc of air.” That was exactly what the “US asbestos industry claimed to be able to do with technology applied after 15 years of regulation, in the mid-1980s, before they all went out of business.”
Meanwhile, the villagers of Bishnupur-Chainpur have given a 24-page memorandum to the Muzaffarpur district administration listing the causes for their opposition to the proposed plant, highlighting glaring contraventions in the BCRL's EIA report and registering their protest against the June 28 public hearing, which they allege was a sham.
However, when contacted, BCRL director N.K. Kanodia refuted all allegations, stating that there were no violations in the EIA report and that all the Terms of Reference (TORs) as laid down by the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) were adhered to. Speaking to The Hindu, he said that the 17.8-acre site acquired for the proposed plant was “entirely barren” and “there were no schools and health centres in the vicinity of the upcoming factory.”
The MoEF had given Environmental Clearance to the BCRL in October this year.
On the allegations that the company management let loose armed men to break a demonstration, which resulted in six villagers suffering severe injuries in a firing, Mr. Kanodia said the firing was an act of self-defence on the part of the management. The instigators were criminals, against whom FIRs had been lodged by the district administration.
“This campaign is false propaganda to blackmail the company management. Banners like Socialist Unity Centre of India (SUCI) are behind this act of disruption. We have met Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Modi and things are being sorted out,” he said.
Though there is a temporary truce between the villagers and the district administration after the December 13 firing incident, residents are seething over the arrest of two of the leaders of the agitation.
Shoumojit Banerjee, The Hindu
Proposed asbestos project could lead to a ‘Turner & Newall' epidemic
Marwan (Muzaffarpur): There is a spectre over the verdant fields of Bihar's Muzaffarpur district, hitherto suppressed by the clamour and euphoria of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar's massive electoral mandate.
Its cause is asbestos — the magic mineral, paradoxically known by its more sinister monikers of the “killer dust” and “the silent time-bomb.”
In November last, the Kolkata-headquartered Balmukund Cement & Roofing Ltd. (BCRL) proposed to set up an asbestos cement roofing sheet factory in the Marwan block.
If the proposed 3, 00,000 tonnes per annum (TPA)-project flags off, the country could very well have its own version of a ‘Turner & Newall' asbestos epidemic (Once the world's largest asbestos conglomerate, T&N exposed millions to a lethal carcinogen).
While the rest of the country closely tracks the industrial policy in a progressive Bihar, at stake is the populous village of Bishnupur-Chainpur with its 25,000 odd men, women and children.
Since July, this otherwise sleepy hamlet has convulsed steadily into a battleground where a series of bitter skirmishes are being fought between the villagers and the district administration, allegedly hand-in-glove with the company authorities.
Work for the proposed plant continues even after a flurry of demonstrations by villagers, who went on an indefinite dharna in December. Assurances were earlier given by the district authorities that the work would be temporarily stopped.
The company management allegedly let loose not less than 50 armed men to break the proceedings, which resulted in six villagers sustaining severe injuries in a firing.
Instead of apprehending the miscreants, the police swooped down on the homes of two demonstration leaders and put them behind bars on charges of inciting mob protest.
The BCRL plant is based on Chrysotile — the chemical name for white asbestos, which accounts for more than 95 per cent of the present world trade in asbestos.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines white asbestos as “a rare fibrous material that is used to make rooftops and brake linings” while explicitly stating “that all types of asbestos result in lung cancer, mesothelioma, cancer of the larynx and ovary, and asbestosis (fibrosis of the lungs).”
The Environmental Health Criterion (EHC) no. 203 as laid down by the International Programme on Chemical Safety (IPCS, established 1980) for Chrysotile asbestos clearly states: “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.”
As per the company's Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) report, 29,000 TPA of raw asbestos fibre will be imported from Canada, Brazil and Zimbabwe.
Norms violations alleged
More disturbingly, the EIA report a reveals a consistent and wanton violation of procedural norms under the EIA Notification, 2006.
According to the report, the company has stated that the land acquired by the company is “completely barren” and the project site situated “at a considerable distance of 15 km. from the nearest town.” Whereas, the factory site, which falls between the adjoining areas of Bishnupur-Chainpur, is surrounded by wheat fields, vegetation and human habitation.
While the company claims to have purchased 17.8 acres, villagers allege that close to 44 acres have been registered in the BRCL's name.
There are at least three schools located within 500 metre and around 15-20 schools within 1,000 metres from the site of construction, in addition to a dozen anganwadi centres.
The movement against the factory, in which school children and women have joined in large numbers, has not been motivated by any rigorous scientific study of asbestos hazards but by bitter real-life experience of the “killer dust.”
In 1996, three villagers from Bishnupur-Chainpur who had worked in asbestos factories in Jaipur, Rajasthan, died painful deaths caused by pleural (lung) thickening.
Despite this, the learning curve for the Muzaffarpur district administration has been anything but steep as it initiated allegedly repressive measures since July to silence any form of protest.
During the land acquisition process, the villagers were told that the site was being procured for an agro-based factory or a sugar mill. Even now, the factory site does not have any proper display boards stating the purpose of the construction.
Further, the public hearing, conducted on 28 June by the Bihar State Pollution Control Board (BSCPCB), amounted to nothing more than a sham with the proceedings in glaring contravention of the EIA Notification, 2006, norms.
None of the proceedings, including the contents of the EIA report, were translated into the vernacular language, while the villagers were not allowed to voice their concerns.
“Neither did the Environment Ministry officials from Delhi inspect the site thoroughly nor did they address the villagers' concerns,” said Ramchandra Rai, convener of the Khet Bachao Jeevan Bachao Sangharsh Samiti, a local forum to combat the incipient threat of asbestos.
The company also allegedly made no effort to disseminate information to the workers on hazards associated with asbestos, given that there are virtually no environmental and occupational health centres in Bihar.
Despite these alleged violations, in a letter to the company in October, the Ministry of Environment and Forests awarded it environmental clearance.
Activists view the struggle in the larger context of the international tug-of-war over the ban on Chrysotile.
“The debate here is not which type of asbestos, whether blue, brown or white, is more harmful than the other. There is more than sufficient evidence out there to prove just how harmful Chrysotile is,” says Gopal Krishna, convener of the Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI).
According to a December 9 report in the Lancet, “Canada was the world's fourth biggest exporter [behind Russia, Kazakhstan, and Brazil], shipping about 1, 50,000 tonnes per year to developing countries such as India, Indonesia, and the Philippines, where little or no protection existed for workers or exposed populations.”
“While the EIA report is full of the utilitarian qualities of the killer fibre, it hides its disastrous environmental and occupational health-effects. It claims that the dust fibres will be kept below the 0.5 fibre/cc limit, but does not disclose that “safe” and “controlled” asbestos in any form is impossible,” Mr. Krishna said.
While India has banned asbestos mining by prohibiting renewal of pre-existing leases (including those of Chrysotile), it allows countries such as Canada to dump their asbestos, he added.
44 acres agro land acquired for Asbestos Factory; Resistance Continues
The grand development process is triggered in Bihar with all media stunt and the doors are opened for investors. The logical consequences of development projects are surfacing too. As Kolkata based Balmukund Cement and Roofing Ltd (BCRL) is allowed to set up killing dust Asbestos factory at Chainpur-Vishunpur village under Madawan Block, Muzaffarpur as a part of development project in Bihar is resulting into serious resistance by the villagers. The agricultural land is acquired on large scale for this project. These lands are acquired illegally through legal means charged Arun Singh, a social activist.
It was the clear case of collusion of Corporate and State and an apparent violation of Environment Protection Act, 1986 through which no forced displacement can be done. According to National Rehabilitation Policy, 2009, agricultural land cannot be used for industrial project. According to Environment Protection Act under notification of year 1994, before setting up any factory, its mandatory for every Factory owner to undertake study regarding Environmental Impact Assessment of the region as well as public hearing.
There has been a movement from last end of the June month in Muzaffarpur against this factory. Earlier, it was just sleepy hamlet of 25,000 populations. The process of setting up the Asbestos factory has been started since September, 2009. The villagers said they acquired our 44 acre lands (but company mentioned 17.4 acre of lands in its EIA report) in the name of Agro-based Industry.
They cleverly didnt put even a hoarding to indicate the proposed site for. The company had virtually made no effort to disseminate the information regarding its harmful impact. As they have undertaken Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) along with constructions of their proposed site since March.
There were number of skirmishes occurred between administration and villagers from May, said Rajkumar Choudhary, AIDSO activist. He further added The Police dealt with to control the protestors whereas, allegedly, dealt with hand gloves with factory staffs.
In November, SDO of the Block announced stay over the construction on the factory site in front of thousands of protestors. But, the factory constructions were not stopped. It shows how administration have been backing the Company said Arun Kumar. Then villagers decided for indefinite strike at the gate of under constructed factory, he added.
On December 13, hundreds of the protestor sat on indefinite strike at the gate of proposed under-construction site. The factory manager hired 50-60 hooligans fired on the peaceful demonstrators. The fierce skirmished scene occurred at the site. The six-protestors injured. In which Harendra Mahto and Mantosh Kumar were seriously injured by the bullet. Later, they admitted at Muzaffarpur Sadar Hospital, and rest were hospitalized in a private clinic. The police were unseen while the protest was in swing
Ironically, FIR was registered against the protestors and they were charged with looting and ransoming. After furious protest, FIR was also registered against Sri Mishra & Sri Tiwary, owner representatives of the site, but no arrest is made yet.
The movement was led by the SUCIs (Socialist Unity Centre of India) student wing AIDSO(All India Democratic Students Organisation), Khet Bachao Jeevan Bachao Jansangharsh Committee and Citizen Forum. They all were made accused in this case.
One side country is reeling under food insecurity and other side this government is allowing dangerous Asbestos factories to set up on 50 acres agricultural land. They acquired the land in the name of Agro-based industries, said Ram Chander Ray, Convenor of Khet Bachao Jeevan Bachao Sangharsh Committee.
The BCRL plant is based on Chrysotile — the chemical name for white asbestos, which accounts for more than 95 per cent of the present world trade in asbestos.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines white asbestos as a rare fibrous material that is used to make rooftops and brake linings while explicitly stating that all types of asbestos result in lung cancer, mesothelioma, cancer of the larynx and ovary, and asbestosis (fibrosis of the lungs).
The Environmental Health Criterion (EHC) no. 203 as laid down by the International Programme on Chemical Safety (IPCS, established 1980) for Chrysotile asbestos clearly states: 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.
As per the companys Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) report, 29,000 TPA of raw asbestos fibre will be imported from Canada, Brazil and Zimbabwe.
More disturbingly, the EIA report, the company has stated that the land acquired by the company is completely barren and the project site situated at a considerable distance of 15 km from the nearest town. Whereas, the factory site which falls between the adjoining areas of Bishnupur-Chainpur is surrounded by wheat fields, vegetation and human habitation. There are 15 schools within the ambit of just a kilometer from the proposed site besides dozen of Aganwadi center. The Block office is at 7 km distance.
A study undertaken by a volunteer organization in Gujrat on the workers of an asbestos company Gujarat Composite Limited reveals horrendous facts. 75 out of a thousand workers exposed to asbestos for ten years were diagnosed with lung cancer. At least 20 affected are dead. On the contrary Government version reveals that there is almost non-existent record of death or any harmful affect from Asbestos. In 2005, Ministry of Environment said that no complain has been received regarding death or damages by Carcinogenic contents.
Eminent socialist thinker, Schchidanand Sinha appealed Chief Minister not to allow harmful asbestos company to set up near population. Medha Patekar wrote an open letter to CM in this regard. Ban Asbestos Network of India(BANI) convener, Gopal Krishna, a man behind the successful advocacy for the return back of the Cleameanceu ship, who was moving towards the Alang port, a largest ship breaking port of the world in Gujarat, also sent a letter addressing Mr Nithish Kumar.
On Wednesday, noted Environmental Consultant and asbestos hazard expert Dr. Barry Castleman addressed letters to Mr. Kumar and Union Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh drawing their attention to the community resistance in Muzaffarpur over the proposed plant and the repressive measures initiated by the district authorities.
Dr. Dhruv Mukhopadhaya, former Professor Dhanbad Science Centre, said here that Our government do not discourages the Asbestos Factory while 52 countries had banned this and a notification has been pending in Rajya Sabha regarding ban of this killer dust.
Gopal Krishna, answered a query how a poor man make its roof if it is completely banned. He says Dont think it is cheap but it has been made cheaper year by year. Most of the asbestos factories owners are our Parliamentarians. The custom duty was 78 % on the import of Asbestos in 1995, now it is reduced to 15%. Earlier this industry was growing by 10-12% but in 2004, its growth rate reached to 83%. There is trick behind its cheapness
The SUCIs student wing AIDSO, Khet Bachao Jeevan Bachao Jansangharsh Committee and Citizen Forum had submitted memorandum on Thursday of immediate release of the protestors and withdrawal of the charges slapped against them. NAPM leader Medha Patekar also demanded unconditional release of the villagers who were falsely charged in this case.