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:firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
Sunday, February 27, 2011
The World Health Organization (WHO) reported “in 2004, asbestos-related lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis from occupational exposures resulted in 107,000 deaths and 1,523,000 DALYs.
Disability-adjusted life year (DALY) is defined as the measure of overall disease burden expressed as the number of years lost due to ill-health, disability or early death.
But these aren’t just numbers; these are individuals, families, and friends who have been impacted by preventable deadly diseases.
For Details: http://www.gban.net/
Devendra Ram was overjoyed when he first saw a factory being built near his village in Bihar.
It was an asbestos factory and the villagers were told it would provide jobs in Muzaffarpur district, an area where farm incomes had long been dwindling.
But then the children of the village got involved.
Mr Ram's teenage son, Hare Krishna, told him about what he had learned in school.
In his biology and chemistry lessons at the government-run school, he found out about the harmful effects of asbestos.
On hearing that an asbestos factory was going to be built in their village, Hare Krishna and other students launched a protest.
They told their farmer parents about the potentially deadly nature of asbestos.
Then they too got involved in the campaign against the factory. The protests against the factory have been so fierce that construction work has come to a temporary halt.
Hare Krishna read about asbestos in his biology lessons
It has been an acrimonious battle. Police fired on protesting villagers last month, injuring three farmers. More than 24 people have been injured in baton charges.
Campaigners say this could be the first time that students have launched a protest movement on the back of lessons learned in school.
It is remarkable, not just for the vociferous nature of the protest but also because this is a poor, remote area with high levels of illiteracy.
Villager Vinod Kumar Singh said his teenage daughter, Sonam, took the lead in convincing her mother and other women in the village.
"She literally forced us to oppose the set-up of the factory," he said.
Sonam says she will not stop educating villagers "until everybody comes out to oppose" the factory.
"If the government allows the factory they should first burn our school books in which they teach us about the deadly effects of asbestos," said Sonam.
Villagers surrounding her clapped and nodded vigorously in agreement.
“Unlike blue asbestos, white asbestos is harmless – the villagers are being mis-informed” BK Tiwari Balmukund Cement and Roofing
The movement has caught the attention of India's environmentalists and prominent social workers, including Medha Patkar.
And India's Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh has sought details about the factory from Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar.
Mr Kumar said a consensus must be built across the country on the use of asbestos.
Meanwhile, the schoolchildren of Muzaffarpur are demonstrating every day to make people aware of the hazardous effects of the "asbestos dust".
But a manager at the company setting up the factory says the fears of the villagers are unfounded.
BK Tiwari, who works for Calcutta-based Balmukund Cement and Roofing company says there are over 50 white asbestos factories and many in densely-populated areas of the country.
Soonam Kumari (left) goes around educating villagers about "hazardous" asbestos
"There are no protests against the factories in these areas. Unlike blue asbestos, white asbestos is harmless. The villagers are being mis-informed," he said.
Mr Tiwari said the factory was expected to employ 500 villagers when it was fully operational.
One form of asbestos, white asbestos, is widely used in the developing world, but is banned on health grounds in many industrialised countries.
The World Health Organisation says it too is associated with diseases such as mesothelioma, lung and other cancers, but its promoters say it is safe if used properly.
But the villagers are not satisfied with Mr Tiwari's explanations. They say that school text books approved by the Bihar government itself show that all forms of asbestos are not only harmful but also cause deadly diseases such as cancer.
"Come what may, we will not allow the factory to come up," the villagers chanted in unison.
By Amarnath Tewary Muzaffarpur, Bihar
Friday, February 25, 2011
Blinded by profit, Bihar plans to open 12 asbestos factories
For policy-makers, industrial development, sometimes, entails jeopardising the health of citizens, who lack a voice and recourse to remedial action. The plan to set up 12 asbestos factories in Bihar falls in this category. Muzaffarpur, Bhojpur, Vaishali, Champaran and Madhubani are the sites for the plants, which will produce asbestos sheets and the like, using raw material imported from countries such as Canada, Russia, Kazakhastan and China. The health hazards posed by asbestos are widely known, with some types of cancer, among other maladies, being ascribed to the effects of the fibre, used to make roofs and walls in dwellings of the poor. But then, to recall a well-tested adage, the lives of the poor come cheap for those at the helm of power.
India is among the countries that have chosen to ignore warnings issued in this regard by World Health Organisation and International Labour Organisation, and allowed use of asbestos products even if mining was gradually phased out since 1989 under growing international pressure. Opponents are worried about concerted lobbying by the rich and powerful asbestos industry, here and abroad, to persuade the Indian Government to lift the ban on mining, and promote the use of the fibre. They are especially concerned that Canada, which is trying hard to revive its asbestos industry, has been focussing on India as a huge potential market and business ally. And local industrial collaborators, with many reported to be close to the Congress-led UPA Government at the Centre, have also been pushing for lifting the mining ban and encouraging use of the fibre.
Ban Asbestos Network of India, an alliance of civil society groups, which has been trying to highlight the issue and help other rights bodies mobilise people in Bihar against the setting up of the plants in their State, condemns Canada’s duplicity. For, while seeking markets in India and other emerging economies, it has adopted a no home-use policy even as it decontaminates buildings. A memorandum of understanding was signed on December 31, 2010, between the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal and the Indian Merchants’ Chamber on the supposedly safe use of asbestos. This occurred just before a trade mission to India. The Indian Supreme Court, which is hearing a PIL to ban asbestos completely, has taken note of the fact that Canada strictly regulates the use of asbestos under its Hazardous Products Act and the Environmental Protection Act, but produced 1,80,000 tonnes of the mineral in 2009. An estimated 96 per cent was exported, according to the US Geological Survey. India constitutes a primary market.
It is not as if policy-makers here are unaware of the dangers posed by the fibre. As far back as the late 1960s, they took note of the fact. After 30 workers from Roro mines in Chaibasa, West Singhbhum district — in Jharkhand now — died of asbestosis. P Mazumdar, a trade union leader, campaigned for occupational health rights. The late Indrajit Gupta, CPI MP, raised the issue in Parliament. Opponents continued to draw attention to the dangers posed by asbestos and pushed for using safe alternatives, but industry lobbyists ensured that the ban on mining was not extended to the use of this fibre. Profit over principles is another well-tested adage. This explains India’s ambivalence with regard to trade in asbestos. Mining is banned but import, manufacture and use of products is permitted. A People’s Union for Civil Liberties report on the Bihar plants calls for an immediate halt to the work at all the sites, while stating that “Bihar cannot be made the dumping ground of hazardous production, exposing the people here to all kinds of risks because they are poor”.
And that is the crux of the matter, with free trade, under the guise of economic liberalisation, being deliberately construed by commercial buccaneers and political underlings as license to ride roughshod over health concerns, human rights, land ownership issues and environmental imperatives. In the present instance, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar is reported to have deflected blame on the Union Government for having approved the setting-up of the factories. In the wake of a six-month long campaign against the setting-up of a plant in Muzaffarpur’s Chainpur-Bishunpur area, Mr Nitish Kumar attempted to clarify his Government’s stand on the issue at a Press conference in New Delhi on February 2. He claimed not to have granted permission, and pressed for suspending asbestos factories throughout India. He rued the absence of a uniform policy in this regard.
According to BANI, clearance for the project has been granted by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests, State Pollution Control Board, State Investment Promotion Board and the State Industry Board. However, since health is a State subject, the Government of Bihar can certainly spike the plan. Opponents feel that industrial lobbies are at work to ensure that the project is not scrapped. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court wants Parliament to bring in a suitable law. The White Asbestos (Ban on Use and Import) Bill is pending since 2009, and opponents are hoping that it will be taken up and the ban on the asbestos trade made legally binding.
February 26, 2011
Thursday, February 24, 2011
Campaign Launched for Ban on Asbestos Factories in Bhojpur’s Giddha & Bihiya
District Administration Urged to Stop Construction of Killer Factories in Bhojpur
AISA SUPPORTS CALL FOR BAN ON ASBESTOS FACTORIES IN BHOJPUR
Ara/Patna/New Delhi 24/2/2011: Drawing the attention of the Bhojpur District Magistrate, Dr Pratima S Varma towards the recent inquiry order by Chief Minister Secretariat in the matter of Closure of Asbestos Factory, the recent Supreme Court order and the pending White Asbestos (Ban on Use and Import) Bill, 2009, a petition has been given to her emphasizing the compelling logic for the District Administration to stop the ongoing construction of the asbestos factories in Giddha and Bihiya.
A press meet was addressed today in Ara at the office of Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation demanding immediate stoppage of the construction work of asbestos factories in Giddha and Bihiya. The petition was shared with the media persons. Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI) addressed the media persons in the presence of Raju Yadav of All India Students Association (AISA), Amarji and Ashokji, leaders of CPIML (Liberation) and Dharmatma Sharma, a concerned villager who lives in the proximity of the proposed asbestos plant in Giddha and a member of District Committee of SUCI (Communist). AISA supports the call for ban on asbestos factories in Bihar. The Press Handout issued today is attached. The Press Meet was organized by AISA.
Earlier, BANI did a site visit of the proposed factories in Giddha and Bihiya. It noticed that the construction work has reached quite an advanced stage on 23rd February and 24th February unmindful of the anti-asbestos movement in Muzaffarpur. This visit was undertaken pursuant to a decision of the Asbestos Virodhi Nagrik Manch (AVNM), Patna in its meeting dated 21st February.
On inquiry at both the places BANI took testimonies of the villagers. It learnt that the public hearing which happened was fake. The villagers never got a copy of the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) report to assess the hazards associated with asbestos based factories which is mandatory pre-condition for the conduct of public hearing. This is in manifest violation of the EIA Notification, 2006 under the Environment Protection Act, 1986.
At Bihiya, there is no board to reveal that the plants under construction are going to be two factory units: a asbestos based cement factory and a asbestos grinding factory. BANI representative was accompanied by two local people faced hostile security guards at the factory gate who did not have any identity cards to reveal that they were workers of the proposed factory units.
At Giddha, the factory site is in close proximity to populated areas. The villagers never learnt about any EIA report or public hearing. In view of the same, the environmental clearance granted by the central environment ministry and approval by Bihar State Investment Promotion Board must be withdrawn.
It may be noted that an earlier letter of BANI dated 3rd February, 2011 was handed over to DM Bhojpur seeking her intervention in stopping the proposed asbestos plants in Bhojpur. The Bihiya plant is being set up by Chennai based Ramco Industries Ltd. The proposal is to establish a 120,000 MT/Annum capacity of Asbestos Cement Sheet Plant and 2 Lakh MT/Annum capacity of Asbestos Grinding Plant at Industrial Area, Bihia. The total project area is 20 acres and land is allotted by BIADA on lease for 90 years. On 10th May, 2010, the project was discussed by the Experts Appraisal Committee (EAC), Industry. In the minutes of the EAC, there explicit reference to "Health Management Plan for Mesothalimoa, Lung cancer and Asbestosis related problems in asbestos industries".
The Executive Director (Industries), Govt. of Bihar has issued a certificate vide letter no. 3168/D/135/DO/ BIADA/09 dated 10th May, 2010 indicating location of the project in notified industrial area Bihiya. No reserve forests is located within 10 Km. Total cost of the project is Rs. 30 Crores (as mentioned in the minutes of EAC). The Bihar'S State Investment Promotion Board (SIPB) cleared it on 23rd November, 2009. Here its total investment is mentioned as Rs 60.20 crore.
The Giddha plant is being set up by Chennai based Nibhi Industries Pvt. Ltd. It plans to establish the One Lakh MT Capacity Asbestos Fiber Cement Corrugated Sheet, Flat Sheet and Accessories and Light Weight Fly Ash Block Plant at Industrial Growth Centre, Giddha, Ara. This has been approved in SIPB meeting on 19th October, 2009. The total investment for the plant is Rs 31 crore.
The Press Meet drew the attention of the media persons towards the fact that 55 countries have banned the use of all forms of asbestos including chrysotile (white asbestos) and how the Kerala State Human Rights Commission considered the problem created by asbestos and directed that the use of asbestos for roofing the school buildings should be stopped and they should be replaced with country tiles. The Kerala State Human Rights Commission, while giving these directions, had considered the judgment of the Supreme Court. Even National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has passed an order in Case No:693/30/97-98 recommending that the asbestos sheets roofing. The recent Supreme Court order dated 21st January, 2011 takes cognizance of the Ban White Asbestos Bill in the Rajya Sabha.
In its order Supreme Court’s bench of Chief Justice of India Justice S.H. Kapadia, Justice K.S. Panicker Radhakrishnan and Justice Swatanter Kumar observed in para 15, “the Government has already presented the Bill in Rajya Sabha. The statement of objects and reasons of this Bill specifically notices that the white asbestos is highly carcinogenic and it has been so reported by the World Health Organisation. In India, it is imported without any restriction while even its domestic use is not preferred by the exporting countries.”
It further notes, “Canada and Russia are the biggest exporters of white asbestos. In 2007, Canada exported 95% of the white asbestos, it mined out of which 43% was shipped to India. In view of these facts, there is an urgent need for a total ban on the import and use of white asbestos and promote the use of alternative materials. The Bill is yet to be passed but it is clearly demonstrated that the Government is required to take effective steps to prevent hazardous impact of use of asbestos.” In the light of the above, BANI contends that the misinformation campaign has been demolished by the apex court’s order. It has drawn the attention of the Bhojpur Administration towards these facts which necessitated immediate stoppage of work at factory sites in Giddha and Bihiya.
The order of the Chief Minister’s Secretariat dated 15th February is attached. Also attached is the petition submitted to the DM dated 3rd February and 24th February.
For Details: Gopal Krishna, National Convener, Asbestos Mukti Andolan/Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI), Mb: 9818089660, 07739308480,
Efirstname.lastname@example.org Web: banasbestosindia.blogspot.com
Raju Yadav, All India Students Association (AISA), Ara, Mb: 09430274122
Dharmatma Sharma, Kayamnagar, Koilwar, Bhojpur, Bihar
Sunday, February 20, 2011
Stop Asbestos Factories in Bhojpur, Vaishali, Champaran, Madhubani: PUCL
BANI Welcomes PUCL’s Recommendation Seeking Ban on Construction of Asbestos Factories in Bihar
Union Budget Must Promote Alternatives of Asbestos & Discourage Trade in Asbestos Fibers
BANI Demands Immediate & Unconditional Release of leaders of Khet Bachao Jeewan Bachao Jan Sangharsh Committee from Jail
New Delhi, 20/2/2011: “Considering the worldwide move for a ban on asbestos it will be unwise and a misplaced idea to promote factories of asbestos in the state of Bihar. It is reported that as many as six plants are coming up in Bihar, the Marwan being in the most advanced stagewith largest capacity. Others are proposed in Madhubani, Chapra, Vaishali, W. Champaran and Bhojpur,” observes a Report on the Issues relating to setting up of an Asbestos factory at Marwan in Muzaffarpur district released by People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), India's oldest and the largest human rights organization on 20th February, 2011.
It may be noted that the proposed location for asbestos based plant at Chapra has been shifted. Tamil Nadu based Nibhi Industries Pvt. Ltd’s proposal for the establishment of 1,00,000 (One Lakh) MT Capacity Asbestos Fiber Cement Corrugated Sheet, Flat Sheet and Accessories and Light Weight Fly Ash Block Plant will now be set up at Industrial Growth Centre, Giddha, Ara. The change of place from Dariapur, Chapra to Industrial Growth Centre, Giddha, Ara has been approved in Bihar State Investment Promotion Board (SIPB) meeting on 19th October, 2009. The villagers in the vicinity of the proposed are deeply disturbed.
PUCL rightly recommends “an immediate stoppage of the work at all the places. Bihar can not be made the dumping ground of hazardous production exposing the people here to all kinds of risks, because they are poor.” The report and their Press Release is attached.
PUCL report should have underlined the central role of Union Government in the promotion of asbestos trade as well. It should have asked central government too to take immediate steps to phase out existing asbestos products and adopt a policy no future use of asbestos of all kinds including white asbestos (Chrysotile) especially in the context of the upcoming Budget Session of the Parliament.
Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI)* has written to Bihar government and the Union Environment Ministry to stop the proposed asbestos plants in Bihar. These include:
1) Chennai based Ramco Industries Ltd for establishment of 1,20,000 MT/Annum Capacity of Asbestos Cement Sheet Plant and 2 Lakh MT/Annum Capacity of Cement Grinding Plant at Industrial Area, Bihiya, Bhojpur
2) Chennai based Nibhi Industries Pvt. Ltd for establishment of the One Lakh MT Capacity Asbestos Fiber Cement Corrugated Sheet, Flat Sheet and Accessories and Light Weight Fly Ash Block Plant at Industrial Growth Centre, Giddha, Ara, Bhojpur
3) Andhra Pradesh based Hyderabad Industries Ltd for establishment of 2,50,000 MT per year capacity Asbestos Cement Sheeting Plant in two Phases at Kumarbagh Industrial Area, West Champaran
4) Kolkata based Balmukund Cement & Roofings Ltd for establishment of 1.5 Lakh MT capacity production unit of Asbestos Fiber Cement Sheet (Corrugated/Flat) and Accessories at Chainpur-Bishunpur, Marwan, Muzaffarpur
5) Kolkata based UAL Industries Ltd for Establishment of 2, 33, 000 MT per year capacity Asbestos Cement Sheet and Corrugated Sheets Plant in two phases at Goraul, Vaishali in the name of UAL-Bihar. Earlier it was proposed at Bakhtiyarpur
6) Rajasthan based A Infrastructure Ltd for establishment of 1, 25, 000 MT per year capacity Asbestos Cement (A.C.) Sheet and 1,00,000 MT per year capacity A.C. Pressure Pipe at Pandaul Industrial Area, Madhubani. Earlier it was proposed in Industrial Area, Kumarbagh, Bettiah
Bihar’s State Investment Promotion Board (SIPB) must be made to adopt a policy of not approving asbestos based industrial projects. SIPB gave approval to Kolkata based M/S Balmukund Cement & Roofings Ltd’s proposal for establishment of 1.5 Lakh MT capacity production unit of Asbestos Fiber Cement Sheet (Corrugated/Flat) and Accessories at Chainpur-Bishunpur, Marwan, Muzaffarpur on 21st December, 2009.
All the locations of proposed asbestos plants are also simmering with discontent. The list of these proposals is attached.
The Section 144 of IPC which has been imposed in Chainpur-Bishunpur is likely to lifted on 23rd February. The situation might become quite volatile after that taking note of the same, BANI demands immediate and unconditional release of Tarkeshwar Giri and Kumud Ram, leaders of Khet Bachao Jeewan Bachao Jan Sangharsh Committee from Jail.
In a paper presented at the World Asbestos Congress in Tokyo, BANI pointed out that Government’s own records show that the danger from asbestos was documented in India as early as 1968. In undivided Bihar, P Mazumdar, leader of the United Mine Workers Union had campaigned for the occupational health rights of 30 workers from the Roro mines, Chaibasa, West Singhbhum district died of asbestosis. This issue was raised in the Parliament by Indrajit Gupta, Member of Parliament but no action has been taken against the company in question so far.
Notably, none of the 300 medical colleges in India have the competence of even diagnosing the incurable diseases caused by the killer fibers of asbestos. Meanwhile, Annie Thebaud-Mony, the leader who successfully spearheaded the ban asbestos campaign in France is scheduled to be in India from March onwards. France became the first country in the world to ban asbestos and win the case against Canada.
PUCL report once again vindicates the veracity of BANI’s position in the face of the onslaught of misinformation campaign by Chrysotile Asbestos (white asbestos) industry association and sponsored news reports and advertorials. BANI awaits the Fact Finding report of Asbestos Virodhi Nagrik Manch as well.
BANI appeals to the Union Finance Minister to provide budgetary allocation for promoting substitutes for asbestos, rehabilitation packages and alternative employment for asbestos workers. There are many long-established alternatives to chrysotile asbestos, which do not rely on fibre technology. Several types of non-asbestos fibres developed for use in a wide range of products can also be substituted for asbestos. The main non-asbestos fibres in current use are PVA, aramid and cellulose. A considered scientific view on their safety has recently become available. There is an urgent need to set up a Mesothelioma Register to take stock of asbestos victims. With developed nations banning and phasing out asbestos, developing countries like India have become the dumping ground for asbestos from countries like Russia and Canada.
The Union Ministry of Agriculture had sponsored the Central Building Research Institute’s (CBRI) research into alternative vegetable fibres and wastes as reinforcements for fibre-cements. The CBRI has developed roofing tiles and blocks using coir fibre and cement. These can also be used in place of asbestos by developing cement-building materials incorporating by-products of oilseeds, pulses and maize.
While Bihar government can and should ban asbestos based products on health grounds because health is a state subject, the central government must adopt a policy of no future use of asbestos of all kinds and desist from signing trade agreement with asbestos countries like Quebec, Canada.
For Details: Gopal Krishna, BANI/Asbestos Mukti Andolan, E-mail: email@example.com, Web: banasbestosindia.blogspot.com, Mb: 7739308480, 09818089660
*BANI is working as a national alliance for asbestos free India to warn the citizens and governments about the impending epidemic of incurable asbestos related diseases and the consequent public health crisis in the absence of environmental-occupational due to mining, manufacturing, use and trade of asbestos is preventable. Chrysotile Asbestos (white asbestos) is promoted by Russia, Canada, India & other asbestos producing countries.
In the recent days newspapers have published reports on several activities and incidents relating to the controversy surrounding establishment of an asbestos factory at Marwan in Muzaffarpur district.. A petition was received from Khet Bachao Jeevan Bachao Jan Sangharsha Samiti (KBJBJSS) requesting PUCL to hold an enquiry. In its weekly meeting on 23 January 2011, the matter was discussed and a team was constituted to enquire into the issues emerging from the incidents at Marwan. The team consisted of Prof Vinay K. Kantha, Mr Nageshwar, Prof Kishori Das, Mr Shahid Kamal and Mr Ramesh Pankaj..
1. Visit of the Team & Mode of Enquiry
The team visited Marwan on 25 January and met a large number of villagers besides inspecting the sites of incident. The team met one Mr Vijay Kumar, a supervisor, at the factory gate, who presumably contacted his superiors and finally did not allow the team members to enter inside the factory premises on the plea that only five members of the Core committee formed by the City S P were authorized to enter the factory. He gave the mobile number of one Mr D K Tiwari who agreed to meet us on 26th in his Patna office. When he was contacted in Patna on 26th he asked us to come on 27th at 4.00 pm. On 27th he switched off his mobile and his office in Luv Kush chamber was found locked up. He was given our number earlier, but he did not contact us even as we had explained to him that we are willing and interested in getting his version and if he wants to produce any documents he may do it. But it was clear that the Company people were evading any public contact, much less scrutiny.
The team visited the local police station and talked to the P.S. in charge Mr Jogendra Paswan at length besides perusing the FIR filed by Shashikant the probationary SI who was leading the force on the forenoon of 23rd January. Shashikant was not available in the P.S., but Jogendra Paswan, Officer in charge of the P.S. was the I.O. in the case and his version was important. The team also spoke to some members of SUCI, NAPM and Asbestos Virodhi nagrik Morcha. District officials however could not be contacted, 25th being a holiday, although a message was given to the DM Muzaffarpur and we had gone to the residence of SDO, but he was out for some meeting.
Some documents were also examined to understand the objections of the villagers to the setting up of asbestos plant in Marwan.. The letter of KBJBJSS to SDO (West) Muzaffarpur along with several supporting documents including couple of papers issued by WHO as well as chronology of events were perused. Villagers also brought before the team the two text books, one book on biology for class X and the other Inter Rasayan for Class XII, published by Bharati Bhawan which have listed the harmful effects of asbestos. Environment Impact Assessment report was also examined.
2. Issues to be examined
In the petition submitted by the KBJBJSS as well as the numerous reports that appeared in the newspapers and magazines there are implicit charges of human rights violations which merit a detailed enquiry. There are larger questions brought up by this episode, like the importance of the views of local population in the developmental decisions or use of land and water. PUCL thought it worthwhile to examine such emerging issues as well, in the wake of a new thrust proposed for some kind of development in the state.
The purpose of the enquiry was thus three fold: first, it related to the events at Chainpur Bishunpur particularly on 22 January when villagers were allegedly lathicharged on the factory gate and teargas shells were fired; secondly, there was larger question of the setting up of an asbestos plant when the local population has started opposing it; and thirdly, there are still larger issues relating to industrialization in the state of Bihar or for that matter elsewhere.
Before the first and second questions are raised it would be worthwhile to get an idea about the place of occurrence, including the rival descriptions, and the history of events.
3. Context and the Background
A. Area and the Proposal
Brief Profile of the Area
Village Chainpur Bishanpur comes under the Jakhra Sheikh Gram Panchayat in Marwan Block, Muzaffarpur District. The panchayat comes under Karja police station. The village Chainpur and adjoining villages have fertile agricultural land. Paddy is grown in most of the fields, and at the time of visit many fields adjoining the factory had standing crop of mustard. Chainpur is a large habitation with more than 1000 households, including a large number of dalit families. The local mikhiya of Jakhra Sheikh panchayat is Ms Lalmuni Devi w/o Suresh Paswan. Adjoining villages are Bisunpur, Parari, Jeean, Panapur, Raksa, Mohammadpur etc, and in the movement that has emerged there some persons of these villages are also involved. For example, Ramchandra Rai who is currently very active and was present in the gathering belonged to Jeean village.
A large number of schools were located within a distance of one kilometer from the site of factory. Primary school of Chainpur is barely at a distance of 400 meters, Parari Primary school was reported to be still closer- at a distance of merely 200 meters.In Jeean within a distance of 500 meters from the factory as the crow flies there were two schools, one primary school and another Urdu Vidyalaya. In Bisunpur likewise the primary school is within 300 meters from the site of factory.Besides there were several anganwadi kendras nearby. In fact the inhabited areas are quite close to the factory, in some directions within 100 meters radius.
Purchase of land
From 2009 ‘Balmukund Asbestos Cement and Roofing Ltd.’ purchased at least about 18 acres of land for the factory through middlemen, without disclosing to the land owners the proposal of establishment of an asbestos factory. The team spoke to the villagers gathered there and several persons gave their versions all confirming that they were not told about the asbestos factory in the beginning. There was an impression apparently based on the versions of middlemen that either an iron rod factory would come up, or possibly some agro-industries would be set up. Most of the land was purchased at the rate of Rs. 10,000 per kathha, and a large number of farmers, more than a dozen, gave their land including some dalit families. Some of their family members were present in the gathering, but they were not aware that the factory to be set up was an asbestos factory.
After the purchase, construction was started on site without clearances. Today the factory stands on a large piece of land amidst farms and close to residential bastis.
Description in Company's proposal and EIA/EMP Report
M/s Balmukund Cement & Roofing Ltd. proposed for the establishment of Asbestos Fibre Cement Roofing Sheet Plant (3,00,000 TPA) at village Chainpur Block Marwan in Muzaffarpur district for which they have acquired 17.8 acres of 'barren land' of which green belt will be developed in 5.9 acres (33% of the total land). No rehabilitation, resettlement or forest land etc are involved. Total cost of the project is Rs 31.0 crores. as they submitted in the petition for environmental clearance while Rs 125.00 lakhs and Rs 50.0 lakhs are earmarked for capital cost and recurring cost/annum for environmental pollution control measures, Rs 125.0 lakhs and Rs 50.0 lakhs are allocated towards Corporate Social Responsibility activities and Occupational Safety and Health Measures respectively. Total water requirement of 300m3 / day will be sourced from own bore wells.
The Committee responsible for making recommendations for granting clearance took note of the complaint of Centre for Science & Environment (CSE), a villager and the reply from Bihar State Pollution Control Board in this regard.. A clarification was sought by the Committee w. r. to distance of the project from nearby plants and the proponent clarified that the distance of school from the plant is more than 500 meters. Based on these submissions the Committee recommend the company for environmental clearance subject to a set of 19 specific conditions along with other environmental conditions.
B. Background of Events leading to start of movement against the establishment of factory and incidents of January 22
While the land was purchased or even after that when construction work started, the local people did not raise any objections believing that the factory would be a harmless industry, iron based or agri-based, giving jobs to people. However, some of the local village people working in the factory leaked the actual purpose of the factory, that it would produce asbestos sheets used for roofing. Reportedly some persons (maybe including a person close to the promoters named Sanjay Jalan) were responsible for distribution of a pamphlet describing the ill effects of asbestos in a local meeting some months after. As the truth came out there was discontent building up amongst villagers. Interestingly the matter was brought up by some children as well, who were aware that asbestos production causes various incurable illnesses including lung cancer. This information was passed on to the villagers by their children whose textbooks talk about the ill-effects of asbestos. In the book Jeeva Vgyan Bhag II published by Bharti Bhawan authored by Banerjee and Varma it was mentioned on p.166 as pointed out by a student of class X Harekrishna Ram s/o Devendra Ram. Their tutor showed them another book Inter Rasayan written by Singh & Sinha (published by Bharati Bhawan itself) where again there was a discussion on diseases like asbestosis, mesothelioma or lung cancer which asbestos may cause. During this period some villagers also recalled that three persons of that locality who worked in asbestos factories of Rajasthan had died earlier after contracting asbestos-related diseases. Another development that has provoked people against the factory is the sudden lowering of water table after the commissioning of the boring tube wells on the factory campus. It was pointed out by villagers that the boring of Niranjan Singh which was in the vicinity of the factory had dried up after the start of factory boring. They feared that in times to come water scarcity may also result from running of the factory so close to habitations.
While this debate has begun in the village a public hearing was organized by the Bihar State Pollution Control Board (BSPCB) on 28th June, 2010, at the Marwan High School. According to the villagers they were not informed about this hearing, but on the day of the hearing Tarkeshwar Giri (an ex-Mukhiya) and Sanjay Singh were present near the venue and went to see what was happening. When Tarkeshwar Giri got to know about the asbestos factory, he tried to register his protest. Some assurance was given to him but apparently nothing came out of it. In a letter written by CSE Associate Director Mr. Chandra Bhushan, it has been pointed out that the public hearing was not done in the right spirit. According to the letter CSE Representative Nivit Kumar Yadav attended the hearing and “found serious flaws in the proceeding of the public hearing, especially not providing proper opportunity to the local representatives who had adverse opinion about the project”. (Letter from CSE to Additional Secy, MoE&F).
The beginning of protests
After coming back from the hearing Tarkeshwar Giri shared the happenings of the public hearing and this confirmed the rumors that it is indeed asbestos which would be produced in the Marwan factory. This led villagers to form the KBJBJSC, with Tarkeshwar Giri as its convener. After protests were launched by the committee, a tri-partite meeting was held in September, 2010 between the company administration, representatives of the KBJBJSC and the SDO, where it was agreed to stop further construction work of the factory but this agreement was violated and construction restarted. Later in November, 2010 after protests at the BDO office, the BDO gave a public assurance that work of the factory would be stopped, but yet again construction activity was restarted.
In December, 2010 peaceful protestors were allegedly fired upon by company goons. On the same day unknown persons burnt a car (magic van that used to ferry workers) owned by factory management. Villagers believe that the factory management themselves burnt the car, and implicated organizers of the KBJBJSC. Later Mr. Tarkeshwar Giri and Kumod Ram were arrested on charges of arson, and are still in jail.
4. Examining different aspects
A. Alleged Lathicharge on 22 January
The sequence of events
Peeved by the tacit administrative support to the company by allowing it resume construction KBJBJSC decided to organize dharna at the factory gate and informed the officials in this regard. 22nd January was the fifth day of the dharna by the KBJBJSC. At around 11.00 am people were gathering at the factory gate. While the arrangements was in progress, a truck carrying the company’s goods arrived, allegedly accompanied by a police jeep from Karja thana. The police team led by probationary SI Shashikant asked the people present to allow the truck to go into the factory. But the protestors refused and this provoked Shashikant who reportedly became very aggressive. As protestors stood their ground, the SI assaulted Ashok Kumar Singh, a frail old person, who was arguing on behalf of the protestors. Others who tried to intervene and protect him also sustained injuries.
While the protestors retreated in the beginning, people from the villages had already started gathering for the day’s dharna. As more people heard about the assault by police more and more people arrived at the factory gate. The protestors insisted on sitting on the dari laid out outside the factory gate and refused to move. The police personnel at this point laathi charged at the crowd, probably in the hope that they would be able to disperse the crowd. The team met five women and two men at the district hospital who had sustained injuries in the lathicharge. Two more persons admitted there, namely, Manoj and Rajesh had left in the meanwhile. Rajo Devi w/o Umakant Paswan, had been admitted to the Muzaffarpur district hospital with head injuries and a hand injury because of which she could not move her left hand. According to Rajo Devi, she was hit by a policeman using his rifle butt and she fell. Seeing his wife fall Umakant Paswan s/o Matukdhari Paswan, went to pick up his wife and in the process was also hit with a rifle butt He was also admitted in the district hospital, though his injuries were less serious. The team also met Sheela Devi w/o Satyanarayan Paswan, who said that she had come to the dharna sthal in solidarity after she heard about the beatings taking place at the site. When she reached she tried to stand at the site of the dharna but was attacked with a rifle butt. Her hand was swollen and she also got head injuries. It was alleged by the villagers that bricks were also thrown from inside the factory campus. Subhagi Devi w/o Singheshwar Ram was also admitted to the district hospital reportedly hit by one such brick, and suffering head injuries.
Police reinforcement reached the factory gate at this time along with a vajra vahan and more police jeeps. By this time people had become very aggressive, having suffered the lathi-charge and attacks on women. The people in turn attacked the vajra vahan and police jeeps. The reinforcement personnel also lathi-charged and the scene became ugly. It was somewhere around this time that Kalash Devi w/o Harinder Mahto realizing that the scene was going out of control, took shelter by the factory wall with 4 other women. But some policemen attacked these unarmed women, Kalash Devi was hit by a rifle butt and she is in the district hospital with a swollen jaw.
At this point the vajra vahan took flight and most police vehicles also left but one police jeep was left behind and the mob, which was out of control by now, ransacked the jeep.
The city SP reportedly arrived there in the afternoon at around 3pm accompanied by the SDO. By that time the crowd was completely out of control and even when the SP tried to address the crowd, people were not ready to listen. At this point the city SP sought the assistance of some senior persons among the organizers who succeeded in bringing order. After that the city SP addressed and made two important announcement. He assured that. on the 27 January, 2011 he would himself come to Chainpur and make an investigation in the case of arrests of KBJBJSC convenor Tarkeshwar Giri and Kumod Ram. He further assured that the factory would now remain closed and the police will be stationed to protect the people. The city SP also constituted a committee of local persons who could inspect and confirm that the factory has not resumed work.
B. Regarding the demand for the ban on asbestos
KBJBJSS submitted a well argued petition before the S.D.O. (West) Muzaffarpur on 28.12.2010, and a copy of the petition was provided to the PUCL along with three annexures. The first annexure contained a document produced by Public Health and the Environment, World Health Organization (WHO) in September 2006 titled 'Elimination of asbestos-related diseases'. The second one was also a WHO paper on 'Preventing Disease through Healthy Environments' and a third annexure was a letter written by Dr Sanjay Chaturvedi, Professor & Head, Department of Community Medicine, University of Delhi, Delhi which summarises the findings of medical researches confirming that 'occupational as well as non-occupational exposures to any form of asbestos are associated with mesothelioma and other malignancies among humans'.
These documents supported by a large number of references to researches, resolutions etc establish beyond doubt the various ill effects of asbestos, and the need to curb its production and use. The following brief observations should clarify the underlying issues:
a. There is an international move to phase out and eliminate the use of asbestos. Taking note of large number of deaths taking place in different countries WHO document 'Preventing Disease through Healthy Environments' note," Elimination of asbestos-related diseases should take place through the following public health actions: a) recognizing that the most efficient way to eliminate asbestos-related diseases is to stop the use of all types of asbestos; b) replacing asbestos with safer substitutes and developing economic and technological mechanism to stimulate its replacement; c) taking measures to prevent exposure to asbestos in place and during asbestos removal (abatement), and d) improving early diagnosis, treatment, social and medical rehabilitation of asbestos related diseases and establishing registries of people with past and/or current exposures to asbestos." International Labour Organization (ILO) has passed several resolutions on this issue, the most recent one is a Resolution in June 2006 in its 95th session meet asking for "the elimination of the future use of asbestos and the identification and proper management of asbestos currently in place." The WHO document reports that "To date, more than 40 countries, including all member states of the European Union, have banned the use of all forms of asbestos, including chysotile."
b. In India too way back in 1995 Supreme Court had directed the Government of India to take cognizance of the resolutions of ILO. In several studies the ill effects of asbestos has been brought out and demands have been raised to ban it or at least restrict its production and use. A bill on Prohibition and use of White asbestos is lying with the Rajya Sabha since 2009. The preamble to the bill points out that white asbestos is 'highly carcinogenic' and that 'more than fifty countries have already banned the use and import of white asbestos'. It notes further that 'Even the countries that export it to India prefer not to use it domestically' and that safer and almost cheaper alternatives to asbestos are available in the country.'
B. Regarding the agitation and the role of state
It was clearly noticeable in our enquiry that the agitation in Marwan was a spontaneous reaction of the local people. Initially villagers gave away their land willingly, but when they came to know about the asbestos factory, they became uneasy and then suspicious. The mode of public hearing reinforced their doubts about the desirability of the factory in their locality. Interestingly children and their textbooks helped them understand the possible hazards, about which they gathered more information and eventually decided to form an organization and launch an agitation to oppose the opening of factory. It was only after the start of the movement that some political groups like SUCI extended support to their movement. While the local movement is still largely being carried out by villagers, outside groups sometimes expressing their solidarity to the cause, the activities in Muzaffarpur and Patna are being organized by urban support groups. If a determined mood of the villagers and their unity are the hallmarks of the local agitation, widespread support of intellectuals and eminent citizens lends strength and credibility to the movement, which has started addressing larger issues as well.
There is an ongoing anti asbestos movement in India, and even at the global level. The national group has provided informational ammunition to the local struggle. In Patna an Asbestos Virodhi Nagrik Manch has been formed consisting of some doctors, teachers, lawyers etc apart from social and political activists. Impressive citizens march against the proposed factory were organized both in Muzaffarpur and Patna. In Patna it took the form of a rally with a large participation of villagers from Marwan. Already there is an opposition of the other five asbestos plants proposed in the state as per reports available so far.
Unfortunately the response of the state both at the political and administrative levels are unsatisfactory. There has been a silence or evasion of the issue at the political level, while in one way or the other there is evidence of administrative support to the setting up of factory. According to newspaper reports the Chief minister first feigned ignorance about the local agitation, shifted the onus on the central government putting forward the plea that if a ban has to come it is the responsibility of the centre. Even regarding the environmental clearance or permission to set up the factory it was done at that level. He may be technically correct, but the state government comes into picture in many ways and will have to take a clear stand, particularly in the wake of a widespread people's opposition. It has led to building of an agitation which is a law and order problem anda definite responsibility of the state government. The land was wrongly certified as barren land by an official of agricultural department. As for the administrative response the police force sometimes seems to have worked in collusion with the company authorities, and the District administration seems to be favouring them. Despite a clear promise of SDO Sadar (West) to stop the construction work at the site and hold a tripartite meeting, work was allowed to be resumed and no meeting took place. Another disturbing feature has been the general reluctance to meet the delegations of civil society both in Patna and Muzaffarpur. A delegation of very respectable citizens of Muzaffarpur sought an appointment with the DM who reportedly kept them waiting first and then disposed them off standing in the corridor in a few minutes. This attitude is objectionable. After a massive demonstration when a delegation went to see the CM. all that the government conceded was a meeting with a junior Deputy Secretary rank official to receive the memorandum. This kind of response may be on account of an arrogance or some kind of fear of the people, and in either case it does not augur well as it precludes the possibility of negotiation and democratic dialogue. The likely course for an issue on which people are determined to oppose would be some kind of avoidable confrontation at the ground level. It is by no means a feature of good governance in a democracy.
4. Conclusions and Recommendations
A. Regarding Incidents on January 22
1. The initial action of the police force was provocative and uncalled for. They had prior knowledge of dharna being staged and yet they insisted upon trucks to move in forcing the peaceful squatters to allow the entry. The police force was led by Shashi Kant a junior officer and he should be suitably punished for his indiscretion and highhanded behaviour.
2. Subsequent action of the force was also excessive and unwarranted until the arrival of the city S.P. The crowd assembled at the factory gate could have been engaged in dialogue, was clearly established by the later turn of events even as the situation had turned very ugly by that time. It is true that they were uneasy and worked up because continued administrative support to the factory owners. But it will be wrong to infer they were inclined to create scenes on their own.
3. The assault on women, that too by male police personnel, is highly objectionable. Apparently they were soft targets, and the application of force was surely excessive. It was also clear from the team’s visit to the sadar hospital that of the 8 injured admitted here, the 4 women were more seriously injured than the men.
4. The FIR lodged by the PSI Shashikant reveals his strong prejudices and attitudes very clearly. He has recounted the later part of events, omitting the early portion of incidents which could have thrown light on the build up of the confrontation. He goes on to assert that people were armed with 'lathis, bhala, tengari, hathora etc', which is apparently with a view to portray the militancy and preparedness on the part of the crowd. From all the enquiry it is not borne out. Further, the FIR suggests that the militant demonstrators (ugra pradarshankari) were indulging in the act motivated by 'commercial jealousy' and they were misleading the ignorant innocent villagers spreading the illusion that asbestos causes cancer. He goes on to insinuate that they were receiving huge money from the professional rivals. These assertions are obviously uncalled for and sustain the allegation of the local people that police force, at least some of them, are acting as the stooges of the company.
5. The people seem to have no faith in the local thana or those stationed in the factory. The people’s perception is that the police are only to protect the factory and not listen to both the sides (i.e. the company and local people). This view seems to have been reinforced by the events of December, 2010 when company goons fired on local protestors, but the police only arrested 2 KBJBJSC members and took no action on the people’s complaint of the firing by company goons.
B. Regarding the demand of closure of asbestos factory
1. The people’s demand for closure of the asbestos factory should be addressed in earnest by calling all the parties involved. Meanwhile the work should stop in the factory. A state level investigation committee may be formed to look into the manner and validity of grant of permission despite objections from the local people. The averment of the factory owners regarding the type of land and proximity of habitations and schools need to be re-examined. The PUCL visiting team noticed that the land is fertile and there are several schools, not one in the vicinity of the site of factory. Persons responsible for wrong certification with regard to these should also be suitably reprimanded.
2. As far as PUCL recommendations are concerned we have no doubts that the asbestos factory should not be allowed to be set up there in view of strong protests of local people as well as clear possibility of ill effects including health hazards for the people residing nearby. However, Balmukund Company may be allowed to set up some agro industries or some other safe industry taking the people into confidence.
C. Regarding the demand of ban of asbestos industry
1. It is time that the demand for ban on asbestos is seriously considered by the central government. Maybe a period of phasing out is decided for the present, making assessment regarding the existing unavoidable requirements and the time which may be taken for substitution by some alternative materials. But surely opening of new factories should be stopped. There is a bill pending before the Rajya Sabha for the regulation of import and use of white asbestos and this should be passed without any further delay.
2. Considering the worldwide move for a ban on asbestos it will be unwise and a misplaced idea to promote factories of asbestos in the state of Bihar. It is reported that as many as six plants are coming up in Bihar, the Marwan being in the most advanced stagewith largest capacity. Others are proposed in Madhubani, Chapra, Vaishali, W. Champaran and Bhojpur. PUCL recommends an immediate stoppage of the work at all the places. Bihar can not be made the dumping ground of hazardous production exposing the people here to all kinds of risks, because they are poor.
D. Regarding the State policies on industrialization and development
1. After decades of economic stagnation Bihar is supposed to have started its pursuit of development and growth. A high rate of growth, higher than the national average, is being claimed and the level of public investment has increased manifold. This is expected to spur private sector investment as well and beginning of a new phase of industrialization. But meanwhile the world has moved ahead, particularly during the past two decades of liberalization and globalization, accompanied by vast technological changes. All of this has thrown up in new problems, while opening up new possibilities, which need to be carefully appraised in the specific context of Bihar.
2. Agriculture continues to be the mainstay of Bihar economy, while given the high density of population in the state, the pressure on land is heavy. This brings up the problem of protecting fertile land from encroachments by industries or other profitable economic pursuits. Hence clear policy framework is required both for industrialization and land use, including the issues relating to land acquisition. The developed countries and even developed states in our country are reluctant to allow industries with adverse ecological impact in their own land, preferring outsourcing of such production until substitutes are available. Asbestos is such an item which is already banned in many countries. A state like Bihar has to guard against dumping of such industries here, even if there is a keen desire in the official quarters to attract private investments. Before it is late we have to realize the need and importance of protection of environment and preservation of natural resources like land, water or greenery. Marwan episode has to be appraised in a holistic perspective, and does provide an early warning as to the problems of misplaced zeal of industrialization. Greater care is needed and the state will have to intervene to ensure that industrialization is promoted in a manner which does not harm the people and causes the least injury to environment.
3. As a matter of fact the model of development being pursued in the state currently seems to follow the same course that started two decades back in India and taken up vigorously in some of the relatively developed states like Gujarat or Maharashtra or backward states keen on development like Orissa or Andhra Pradesh. This strategy of development however has been opposed by many for their inequitable exploitative character, and there are people's movement noticeable particularly in the backward states. While Bihar is poised for growth, it has to carefully work out its strategy of development keeping in view the large poor population of the state and its precarious control over natural resources. After all development is meant for human beings and in a democratic country it is all the more necessary to respect the views and interests of the bulk of the population while designing policies.
Whatever is happening at Marwan is of larger significance than one off local problem at this point of time in Bihar. The present government will be well advised to appreciate the complexities and lay down clear policies with regard to industrialization as well as development. Development is a matter of human rights, and no less. It is time that the government accepts this fact.
Prof Vinay K. Kantha, Mr Nageshwar, Prof Kishoru Das,
Former President, General Secretary, Former General Secretary, Bihar PUCL Bihar PUCL Bihar PUCL
Mr Shahid Kamal Mr Ramesh Pankaj
District Secretary, Muzaffarpur PUCL Member, Bihar PUCL
Friday, February 18, 2011
BANI Appreciates "National Asbestos Awareness Week" Resolution in US Senate
Asbestos Causes 300 Deaths Every Day
BANI Condemns Promotion of Asbestos Trade by Quebec, Canada
New Delhi 19/2/2011: Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI) appreciates the introduction of resolution for National Asbestos Awareness Week. BANI hopes that this initiative of the US Senators will pave the way for the implementation of Ban Asbestos America Act 2007 and inspire the India Parliament to pass the pending White Asbestos (Ban on Use and Import) Bill, 2009 which was mentioned by Supreme Court of India in para 15 of its 21st January, 2011 order. .
In the US, Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) has introduced a resolution that declares the first week of April as "National Asbestos Awareness Week" and seeks to "raise public awareness about the prevalence of asbestos-related diseases and the dangers of asbestos exposure."
Asbestos is a known human carcinogen and exposure can cause asbestos-related diseases, including mesothelioma, lung cancer and asbestosis. Studies estimate that during the next decade, 107,000 workers around the world will die of an asbestos related disease - equaling 300 deaths per day.
Meanwhile, Clement Gignac, Quebec Minister of Economic Development, Innovation and Export is promoting controversial Chrysotile asbestos in India. This killer fiber is mined in Quebec, Canada but its mining is banned in India. BANI condemns such double standards given the fact that Canada is busy decontaminating its asbestos laden buildings and has adopted a no home use policy.
Bihar has emerged a destination of such hazardous minerals which is banned in almost entire industrialized world. The proponents of some 12 asbestos plants in Bihar say they will get their supplies of asbestos minerals from Canada and other asbestos producing countries.
About 75 miles north of the U.S.- Canadian border, politicians and in Quebec claim that chrysotile asbestos (white asbestos) being mined from Canada’s last asbestos mine is perfectly safe, harmless to the miners and the workers and consumers who will handle it. This has outraged physicians, public health workers and toxicologists throughout the world who violently disagree because asbestos fibers have caused the deaths of millions. Hundred of thousands of people have died from mesothelioma, other forms of lung cancer and asbestosis due breathing chrysotile fibers.
Baljit Chadha, a Montreal-based entrepreneur who is leading a consortium, Balcorp Ltd., of foreign investors that wants to purchase the mine wants to buy Jeffrey Mine, one of world’s largest asbestos mines to upply much of the world’s asbestos market for at least 25 years. BANI feels that such blind lust for profit can only be deemed barbaric and inhuman. Government of Canada and India which are supporting it are guilty of crime against humanity. It’s a classic case of profit-over-public health and safety attitude.
It has been noted that Chadha’s would-be investors — from Canada, Europe, Brazil and India — have asked the Quebec government for a $57 million loan guarantee (US dollars) to complete construction of the underground mine here, which they say will bring new life to this moribund asbestos-producing region, 95 miles east of Montreal.
Chadha has been selling Canadian asbestos to India and other countries for the past 15 years. Balcorp says all of the asbestos produced from Mine Jeffrey about half will be going to India.
“It is almost beyond belief that a free and democratic nation like Canada is willing to sacrifice human lives in poor and developing nations on the altar of avarice and greed,” says Dr. Michael Harbut, a cancer specialist who is the chief of the Center for Occupational and Environmental Medicine at Michigan’s Karmanos Cancer Institute in an interview to Cold Truth, a journal of investigative journalism.
If this is commonplace in developed countries, experts worry what’s going to happen to safety restrictions in countries where bribes and baksheesh are the norm.
“Canada seems to care more for its own economic well-being and not weigh the horrible effects their greed will have on the lives of countless others throughout the world will suffer and die from continued exposure to asbestos,” Dr. Richard Lemen, former U.S. assistant surgeon general told the journal.
“The notion that their asbestos is ‘safe’ or that ‘controlled usage’ will result in no disease is a myth.”
“It is ludicrous, completely absurd, to believe that some countries in … southern and Southeast Asia can implement safe work policies that have been impossible to implement in Western countries,” said Egilman, who is also an associate professor of family medicine at Brown University.
Barry Castleman, a noted international asbestos researcher who has long fought for a worldwide ban on the deadly mineral as a representative to the World Trade Organization, says, “If this loan deal goes through, it will revive Canada’s asbestos industry and cost untold thousands to die, from Canada continuing to lead the propaganda efforts pushing global asbestos use.”
"Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO) applaudes the U.S. Senate for its introduction of the Seventh Annual Resolution recognizing National Asbestos Awareness Week," said Linda Reinstein, President and Co-Founder of the ADAO. "It is only through continued awareness that we can succeed in our efforts to ban asbestos both in the US and globally. Our leadership continues to set an important example through this yearly initiative. We have witnessed pivotal change as doctors, scientists, governmental bodies, educators and asbestos victims come together to share information that has the power to save lives. We look forward to continued progress and each year we get closer to a future without asbestos."
For Details: Gopal Krishna, Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI), Mb: 9818089660,
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, Web: banasbestosindia.blogspot.com
Doug Larkin, Director of Communications, Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO), Phone: (202) 391-1546, email@example.com
Andrew Schneider is a renowned U.S. investigative journalist who has written about the asbestos industry and other health and environmental issues. He has won two prestigious Pulitzer Prizes, one in public service and one for specialized reporting. He was also recognized with the National Headliner Award, the Society of Professional Journalists' Public Service Award, the George Polk Award, and the John B. Oakes Award for Distinguished Environmental Journalism.
In the following two articles, he writes about the efforts underway by a consortium of investors to obtain government financing to open the Jeffrey underground asbestos mine in Quebec and export huge quantities of asbestos to developing countries for the next decades.
* Jobs or Safety? Asbestos Debate Goes Global
AOL News, Feb 17, 2011 http://www.aolnews.com/2011/02/17/jobs-or-safety-asbestos-debate-goes-global/
* Will Canada Export Death by Rejuvenating Its Last Asbestos Mine?
AOL News, Feb 17, 2011 http://www.aolnews.com/2011/02/17/will-canada-export-death-by-rejuvenating-its-last-asbestos-mine/
Monday, February 14, 2011
Saturday, February 12, 2011
Production of asbestos shingles for roof cover is banned in the U.S. Old shingles can be discarded only through hazardous material collections. Workers removing asbestos insulations from heating pipes wear protective clothing to prevent breathing asbestos fibres. Mr. Nicodemus's letter is misleading.
Mohammad Imran, New Jersey
* * *
As usual, the Asbestos Cement Products Manufacturers Association is engaged in the dissemination of incorrect information, when it says “there is no ban on asbestos in the U.S., Canada, Russia, China, Brazil, etc.” There are other blatant errors in the letter referred to but due to the limitations of space, I will concentrate on this misstatement.
There are de facto bans on the use of asbestos in Canada and the U.S. In 2009, the latest year for which data is available, these countries respectively used 2,528 tonnes/t (Canada exported more asbestos than it produced) and a paltry 783 tonnes. In Brazil, there is asbestos ban in the States of Rio de Janeiro, Pernambuco, Rio Grande do Sul and São Paulo and the Brazilian Environment Ministry and Health Ministry have both banned the use of asbestos in their departments. China has banned the use of all types of asbestos in friction materials in the automobile industry, the import and export of amphibole asbestos (2005) and, as of June 1, 2011, the use of chrysotile asbestos in many asbestos-cement building products under Chinese national standard GB50574-2010.
Coordinator, International Ban Asbestos Secretariat,
Agitators allege misinformation on perceived hazardous fallouts of proposed plant
“17.8 acres of land acquired to set up the factory is cultivable, fertile”
Patna: Taking note of the mounting public uproar against the proposed asbestos factory at Bishnupur-Chainpur village in Muzaffarpur district, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar on Monday said “there was no ban on setting up asbestos factories in India.”
Mr. Kumar, however, said that in view of the opposition to the factory in Chainpur, further proposals submitted by the State Investment Promotion Board (SIPB) had been withheld by the government.
Speaking to journalists after the Chief Minister's ‘Janata Durbar,' Mr. Kumar said it was the SIPB which usually reviewed such projects and the government's role was limited to “repudiating the rebate granted to such industries, if popular agitation so demanded.”
Villagers in arms
Residents of the village have been up in arms against the Rs. 31-crore asbestos factory proposed to be set up by the Kolkata-based Balmukund Cement and Roofing Ltd (BCRL) since July last year. Several sit-ins were staged by residents and members of the left parties, notably those from the Socialist Unity Centre of India (SUCI).
The agitators, including “ban asbestos” activists, have been sparring with the district administration and the BCRL management over alleged violations as per the Environmental Impact Assessment notification, 2006 and alleged misinformation on the perceived hazardous fallout of the proposed chrysotile asbestos plant in Chainpur.
At the core of the agitation, however, is the BCRL land acquisition process which the villagers have maintained was completely “illegitimate.”
Villagers have said that the 17.8 acres acquired by BCRL to set up its factory was “cultivable, fertile land,” with three primary schools and health centres around it.
“In case there is an issue of land dispute, the matter will certainly be looked into. Meanwhile, there needs to be a debate on the matter,” Mr. Kumar said, calling upon the agitators to take a balanced view.
The Chainpur agitation has been marred by two incidents of firing allegedly ordered by the district police and the company management to break protests.
The Chief Minister however said that the deputed police force had been called back and further police action had been curtailed.
Meanwhile, activists are exhorting Mr. Kumar to ban the “killer dust.”
“While the Centre has been phasing out the use of asbestos in a piecemeal manner, Bihar, which presently has a progressive government led by Nitish Kumar, should have set a precedent in this case by imposing a total ban,” Gopal Krishna, Convener of the Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI) told The Hindu.
“The issue at stake here is the health of a State, and not of industry. So, what is stopping it from setting a precedent instead of waiting for the Centre to set one,” he said, citing Kerala's initiative in banning endosulfan.
Four more asbestos plants were proposed in other districts, including Bhojpur and Vaishali.
Earlier, environmentalists such as Dr. Barry Castleman too had petitioned Mr. Kumar and Union Minister of Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh, drawing their attention to the community resistance in Muzaffarpur to the proposed plant, while alerting them about the hazardous effects of chrysotile (white asbestos).
India Justice S.H. Kapadia, Justice K.S. Panicker Radhakrishnan and Justice Swatanter Kumar observed in para 15, “the Government has already presented the Bill in Rajya Sabha. The statement of objects and reasons of this Bill specifically notices that the white asbestos is highly carcinogenic and it has been so reported by the World Health Organisation. In India, it is imported without any restriction while even its domestic use is not preferred by the exporting countries.”
It further notes, “Canada and Russia are the biggest exporters of white asbestos. In 2007, Canada exported 95% of the white asbestos, it mined out of which 43% was shipped to India. In view of these facts, there is an urgent need for a total ban on the import and use of white asbestos and promote the use of alternative materials. The Bill is yet to be passed but it is clearly demonstrated that the Government is
required to take effective steps to prevent hazardous impact of use of asbestos.” In the light of the above, Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI) contends that the misinformation campaign has been demolished by the apex court’s order.
Hyderabad Inds in Rs 100 cr expansion
Prashanth Chintala / Chennai/ Hyderabad February 12, 201
Hyderabad Industries Limited (HIL), a CK Birla group company engaged in the production of asbestos cement products, has embarked on a Rs 100-crore expansion plan besides shifting its focus on manufacturing green building products.
HIL managing director Abhaya Shankar told Business Standard that the company was in the process of adding another asbestos sheets production line at its Satharia plant in Uttar Pradesh involving an investment of Rs 50 crore.
“The new production line will have a capacity of 100,000 tonnes per annum (tpa) taking our total installed capacity to 1 million tpa. Following this, we will be one of the largest producers of asbestos cement sheets in the world,” he said.
HIL is currently a leader in asbestos sheets production in the country with a share of 21 per cent in the Rs 3,000-crore market. In 2009-10, its turnover and net profit stood at Rs 756 crore and Rs 89.7 crore respectively.
“Our brand Charminar, established over six decades, continues to enjoy premium brand equity in the market,” Shankar said, adding the company's target was to cross a turnover of Rs 1,000 crore three years down the line.
Besides expanding the capacity of Satharia plant, the company is looking at setting up a manufacturing facility at a cost of Rs 50 crore in Bihar. The proposal is expected to be finalised shortly.
At present, HIL has 12 manufacturing plants spread across the states of Andhra Pradesh, Haryana, Jharkhand, Kerala, UP, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Orissa and Tamil Nadu. The company has also leased out a sheets manufacturing unit in Punjab.
Shankar said the company was constantly exploring the option of enhancing the capacity at its existing locations and setting up new plants to keep pace with the growing demand for its products.
According to Shankar, HIL has set up an autoclaved aerated concrete (AAC) blocks production unit at Golan near Surat in Gujarat as the company is now focusing on becoming a manufacturer of green building products. The Rs 80-crore, two million cubic metre capacity unit commenced commercial production in August 2010 and is expected to achieve 75 per cent capacity utilisation by next year.
Made of fly ash and cement, the AAC blocks are stated to be light weight and are becoming the choice of the new generation builders.
Stating that green building products today account for 15 per cent of the company’s turnover, Shankar said HIL’s endeavour was to increase this share to 35 per cent in three years.
Shankar emphasised that the company going in for green building products was not linked to the furore being made by some voluntary organisations about the hazardous effects of asbestos. In this context, he cited a Supreme Court order, issued on January 21, 2011, that refused the plea of a petitioner for banning all uses of asbestos.
Opposition leader Michael Ignatieff said in a statement that Canada must stop exporting asbestos, a toxic material commonly used for manufacturing materials such as roofing shingles, ceiling, floor tiles and cement products because of its fire-retardant and insulation properties.
Recent studies cautioned that when asbestos-containing materials are damaged or disturbed, microscopic fibers will become airborne and can be inhaled into the lungs, causing significant health problems attributed to the toxic substance. According to anti-asbestos campaigners, Balcorp spokesperson, Guy Versailles, announced Thursday they will join a mission to India next week to promote safe use of asbestos. Balcorp is a company engaged in international trade and marketing.
On Thursday, Versailles said they will encourage Indian companies to import their asbestos from Quebec and generate revenue for the provincial economy. He added that it will make it easier for other asbestos companies to export their products. Kathleen Ruff of the anti-asbestos group from Rideau Institute believed it will be impossible to regulate safe use of asbestos throughout India because working conditions are so poor.
She said that when the asbestos cement products are dispersed, villagers will be put at great risk posing significant health problems attributed to asbestos exposure. Studies showed that long exposure to high concentrations of asbestos fibers caused diseases such as asbestosis, lung cancer and malignant mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that affects the protective lining covering the internal body organs.
Meanwhile, Ignatieff said that it will be crucial for the Canadian government to help asbestos workers find employment in another industry. Balcorp, on the other hand, said they are considering paying for routine inspections in India to make sure the workers are protected from possible health problems.
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“There are very strict regulations in [Canada] that outline what needs to be in place for [handling] asbestos,” says Anthony Pizzino, the national director of research and occupational health for CUPE.
Canada's domestic use of asbestos, which is linked to lung cancer and other respiratory diseases, is severely limited, but the country continue to export the mineral to nations like India, Indonesia and the Phillipines, reports Press TV's Ginella Massa.
“With all of these precautions put in place to make sure that Canadians are not exposed, we continue to send that material overseas where those types of precautions don't exist,” Pizzino added.
Canada has vetoed a regulation that would add asbestos to an UN-sponsored list of controlled substances, which would, in turn, reveal its harmful effects to importers.
About 125 million people worldwide are exposed to asbestos in the workplace and more than 107,000 people die each year from asbestos-related lung cancer, according to the World Health Organization, says Massa.
A personal investigation into the present-day use of asbestos
Director: Kathleen Mullen
Thursday, February 24 · 7:00 PM Royal Ontario Museum Theatre, 100 Queen's Park just south of Bloor Street, (South Side Entrance), Toronto
DISCUSSION WITH DIRECTOR, FAMILY MEMBERS AND SPECIAL GUESTS TO FOLLOW
Breathtaking takes on the asbestos industry through a moving and personal investigation into the death of Kathleen's father Richard from Mesothelioma (a rare cancer uniquely caused by asbestos exposure). The film also explores the indefensible present-day use of asbestos, that continues to exact a terrible human toll. Valued since pre-history and commercially mined since the Industrial Revolution, asbestos was nicknamed the 'magic mineral' for its fabric-like properties and its capacity to protect against fire, and was used in everything from brake pads to oven mitts. After it was discovered to be carcinogenic, asbestos use was banned from use in many countries and limited in others. But Canada, along with Russia and several other countries, still mines asbestos and exports it for use in developing nations.
With moving clips of her dying father's legal testimony, family photos, and Super 8 home movies as a narrative springboard, Mullen takes the audience on an investigative journey from her family's home in British Columbia to Quebec, India and Detroit, painting a global, yet still personal picture of the many lives affected by the continued use of asbestos.
NEW DELHI, Feb 10, 2011 (IPS) - Activists hope that a popular agitation against the setting up of a factory to manufacture asbestos products in the eastern Bihar state will result in a nationwide ban on the large-scale import into this country of the deadly mineral fibre.
Following six months of agitation against the setting up of the factory in the Chainpur-Bishunpur area of Bihar’s Muzzaffarpur district, state chief minister Nitish Kumar sought to lay blame on the central government for lack of uniform laws on asbestos use across the country.
"This factory has received the environmental clearance from the government of India. But we (the state government) have not permitted its establishment we have not given any permission. As of now asbestos is not prohibited. There should be a uniform policy and asbestos factories stopped all over the country," Kumar said at a press conference in the national capital Feb. 2.
While construction at the Balmukund Cement and Roofings Ltd (BCRL) factory has now been suspended, Kumar has not moved to ban asbestos factories in his state.
The Khet Bachao, Jeevan Bachao Jansangarsh (Save Land Save Lives) Committee, which is leading the agitation in Muzzafarpur, wants both the centre and the state to unequivocally cancel all approvals given to the BCRL.
While the central government India has banned the mining of asbestos, it allows trade, manufacture and use of the mineral – despite resolutions by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the International Labour Organisation calling for elimination of future use of asbestos.
According to WHO an estimated 90,000 people die of asbestos-related illnesses every year.
Inhaling even small amounts of asbestos fibre or dust can result in a painful, eventually fatal condition called mesothelioma, and lung cancer. Most patients, who are impoverished labourers, have little recourse to medical care. Occupational health is grossly neglected in this country.
"Nitish Kumar’s philosophical appeal to begin a debate on production and use of asbestos in India smacks of insincerity because he should be announcing reforms in his industrial policy," the anti-asbestos committee’s convenor, Ram Chandra Rai, told IPS over phone. "Our agitation will continue."
"Obviously Nitish Kumar is under pressure from industrial lobbies. There is no need for further debate on the dangers to human health from asbestos,’’ said Gopal Krishna of the Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI), which has been supporting the agitation in Muzzaffarpur.
India’s Supreme Court is currently hearing a public interest litigation asking for a complete ban on asbestos, but has decided to leave it to Parliament to bring in suitable legislation through the White Asbestos (Ban on Use and Import) Bill that is pending since 2009.
At a hearing on Jan. 21 the apex court observed that the bill "specifically notes that the white asbestos is highly carcinogenic and it has been so reported by the WHO. In India, it is imported without any restriction while its domestic use is not preferred by the exporting countries."
The court noted that in 2007 Canada exported 95 percent of the white (chrysotile) asbestos it mined, of which 43 percent was shipped to India. "In view of these facts, there is an urgent need for a total ban on the import and use of white asbestos and promote the use of alternative materials," the court observed.
Canada strictly regulates the use of asbestos under its Hazardous Products Act and the Environmental Protection Act, but produced 180,000 tonnes of the mineral in 2009 of which 96 percent was exported, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
In India chrysotile asbestos - which is mixed with regular cement to produce cheap roofing, drainpipes and false ceilings - can be freely imported. But the consequences to workers who handle such products are horrendous.
According to Sudhirendar Sharma, noted environmentalist and former consultant to the World Bank, finely powdered asbestos has even been an adulterant in perfumed talcum powder and as a whitener for the prized basmati variety of rice.
"It is truly strange that the Canadian government knowingly exports a product that has the potential to kill thousands of people in India and that the Indian government continues allow its import," Sharma said.
Sharma said that Canadian exporters and Indian importers were powerful enough to get chrysotile excluded from the Rotterdam Convention (1994) on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for trade in hazardous chemicals and pesticides.
"Without official patronage a product, banned in the European Union, Australia and Japan cannot continue to be so easily imported into India," Sharma said. "The fact that India slashed the import duty on asbestos from 78 percent in 1995 to 15 percent in 2004 speaks volumes."
Last week, BANI issued a statement condemning the signing of a memorandum of understanding on Dec. 31, 2010, between the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal and the Indian Merchants' Chamber on the so-called safe use of asbestos, ahead of a trade mission to India.
"The signing of this agreement reveals the callous disregard of the Quebec- based asbestos mining companies and Indian asbestos product manufacturing companies towards the health of Indians," the statement said.
"We are concerned that the Jan. 30-Feb. 4 trade mission to India led by Clement Gignac, Quebec’s economic development minister, included a representative of Balcorp Ltd., a major exporter," Krishna said.
Balcorp is part of a consortium pushing to reopen the privately owned Jeffrey Asbestos mines in Canada, one of the world’s largest open-pit asbestos mining operations.
On Dec. 31, 2010, Turkey joined a growing list of over 55 countries that have prohibited the mining, trade, manufacturing and use of asbestos of all kinds in the interest of their citizens’ health.
"Indian policymakers must take care not to succumb to pressure from the likes of Clément Godbout, president of the asbestos lobby group that includes the Chrysotile Institute, Chrysotile Asbestos Products Manufacturers and Asbestos Information Centre," Krishna said. (END)
IPS, Ranjit Devraj
Thursday, February 10, 2011
Massive Citizens March Against Asbestos Plants in Bihar
Memorandum Demanding Change in Asbestos Industry Submitted to CM
Delegation Demanding Ban on Killer Meets Bihar Industry Minister
Patna/New Delhi 10 February: Inhalation of asbestos fibres has been shown to lead to a number of serious health risks, including asbestosis and the cancer mesothelioma which are preventable but incurable. Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI) supports the Citizens March against asbestos plants in Bihar and the struggle of Khet Bachao Jeevan Bachao Jansangharsh Committee against the proposed plant in Chainpur-Bishunpur, Marwan, Muzaffarpur. This movement of the Committee is unprecedented.
On 10th February a massive rally in Patna culminated in Citizens Forum Against Asbestos submitting a memorandum seeking cancellation of industrial license given to the proposed asbestos based factory in Chainpur-Bishunpur, Marwan, Muzaffarpur and other places where such plants are proposed. The official who met the delegation Mr Shamim Ahmed, Deputy Secretary, Bihar Government asked the delegation to meet the Bihar Health Minister to apprise him of the potential health hazards from the killer fibers of asbestos.
Earlier, on 9th February a delegation of Citizens Forum Against Asbestos met Dr Renu Kumari, Bihar’s Industry & Disaster Management Minister and briefed her about the hazards from asbestos. She has promised to visit the factory site within a week. The delegation also met Dr Jaganath Mishra, former Chief Minister. BANI was part of these delegations.
A Fact Finding visit to Chainpur-Bishunpur, Marwan, Muzaffarpur on 9th February took the testimonies of the women victims of police repression. These women were protesting against the asbestos plant in their village. The team comprised of BANI, a news Channel TV99 and noted journalist & author Pushpraj who were struck by the slogans of the children and adults celebrating Saraswati Puja. Instead of chanting religious slogans, they were shouting “Cancer Factory Band Karo” and “Balmukund Go Back” in front of the idol of the Goddess Sarswati. It appeared as if the Goddess is inspiring the villagers to protect themselves from the ticking time bomb called asbestos. The anger against the proposed hazardous plant by Balmukund Cement & Roofing Ltd is quite palpable. The villagers revealed that strange women from some public relations agency have been hired by the company to lure and seduce the villagers to change their views.
Asbestos becomes a hazard when microscopic fibre fragments become airborne and are inhaled which they always do. Due to their size and shape they can remain airborne for some time, and enter even the smallest air passages in the lungs where they embed in lung tissue. The fibres are highly resistant to removal by the lungs’ natural cleaning processes.
BANI demands Bihar government should not to succumb to pressure from the likes of Clément Godbout, president of the asbestos lobby group that includes the Chrysotile Institute, Chrysotile Asbestos Products Manufacturers and Asbestos Information Centre. The uninformed reaction of the Bihar chapter of Confederation of Indian Industry and Bihar Chambers of Commerce in support of killer asbestos industry is a classic case of blind profit mongering at any human cost.
Residents and policymakers in Bihar must examine places in the houses and buildings where can asbestos be found.
Asbestos fibers are incredibly strong and have properties that make them resistant to heat. Many products are in use today that contain asbestos. Most of these are materials used in heat and acoustic insulation, fire proofing, and roofing and flooring. Although banned in 55 countries because safe and controlled use of asbestos of all kinds is impossible, many of the asbestos based products are still be in use. These include asbestos-cement corrugated sheet, asbestos-cement flat sheet, asbestos-cement pipe, asbestos-cement shingle, roof coatings, flooring felt, pipeline wrap, roofing felt, asbestos clothing, non-roof coatings, vinyl/asbestos floor tile, automatic transmission components, clutch facings, disc brake pads, drum brake linings, brake blocks, commercial and industrial asbestos friction, products, sheet and beater-add gaskets, commercial, corrugated and specialty paper, millboard, roll board, water supply pipes, kitchen utensils etc.
Notably, Australia and the UK have the highest rates of asbestos-related death in the world because of past exposure compelling them to ban this killer fiber. Bihar should avoid such a path of industrialization. These deaths take place because of the misinformation campaign of the asbestos industry. Asbestos, now banned in the Europe, kills up to 4000 people a year in the UK alone. In India, there is no agency to collect the data of these ongoing deaths because none of our medical colleges diagnose asbestos related diseases.
It must be noted that ten thousand US citizens die each year -- a rate approaching 30 deaths per day -- from diseases caused by asbestos, according to a detailed analysis of government mortality records and epidemiological studies by US based Environmental Working Group. Asbestos kills thousands more people than skin cancer each year, and nearly the number that are slain in assaults with firearms. It has been revealed that the suite of diseases linked to asbestos exposure overwhelmingly affect older men.
The state government must announce a policy and a programme to ban future use of asbestos and decontaminate the existing places where it is found.
BANI demands that to begin with state government must make State legislature buildings, courts, schools and hospitals asbestos free.
For Details: Gopal Krishna, Convener, Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI)/Asbestos Mukri Andolan, Mb: 09818089660, 07739308480, Efirstname.lastname@example.org
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