Make India Asbestos Free

Make India Asbestos Free
For Asbestos Free India

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

Monday, June 13, 2011

Sonia Gandhi Urged to Support listing of Chrysotile Asbestos in UN list of Hazardous Chemicals

To

Smt Sonia Gandhi
Chairperson
United Progressive Alliance (UPA)
National Advisory Council
New Delhi

Dr Manmohan Singh
Prime Minister
Cabinet Committee on WTO Matters
Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs
Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs
Cabinet Committee on Infrastructure
Government of India
New Delhi

Subject- Support listing of chrysotile asbestos in the Prior Informed Consent (PIC) procedure list of hazardous materials at the 5th meeting of the Conference of Parties (COP5) to the UN's Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade (20 to 24 June, 2011, Geneva)

Dear Smt Gandhi and Dr Singh,

This is an earnest appeal to you to ensure that Government of India votes to list chrysotile asbestos (white asbestos) as a hazardous substance, which it has been refusing to do so since 2004 (COP1) years under the influence of asbestos companies unmindful of the human rights violation it entails.

During 20- 24 June, 2011, India will get yet another opportunity to rectify its untenable position on hazardous nature of chrysotile asbestos in Geneva at the 5th meeting of the Conference of Parties (COP5) to the UN's Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade. Having succeeded in, blocking UN recommendations on, four previous occasions, there is little doubt that, chrysotile asbestos producers will repeat their obstructive, behaviour at the COP-5, Rotterdam Convention held in Geneva. It is high time Government of India detached itself from their unethical practice.

It appears that you and Chairperson of UPA has been misled about the toxicity of to chrysotile asbestos. As a consequence, the global public opinion and Indian citizens have begun to consider you as the main obstacle to the inclusion of chrysotile asbestos in the list of UN agreement on hazardous chemicals. It is public knowledge that chrysotile asbestos based plant is operating in Raebarelly, Utter Pradesh in the face of countries after countries banning it. It is also an open secret that the plant is owned by a Member of Parliament of Indian National Congress who runs a chrysotile asbestos company. In such a context,

We appeal to you to:

Resist undue influence of chrysotile asbestos companies

Support listing of chrysotile asbestos in the Prior Informed Consent (PIC) procedure list of hazardous materials at the 5th meeting of the Conference of Parties to the UN's Rotterdam Convention to be held from 20 to 24 June, 2011 in Geneva

Prohibit import, manufacture and use of asbestos based products

Institute just transition program for asbestos workers, their families and communities around asbestos plants and products

Join the United Nations in banning the production and export of chrysotile asbestos worldwide

Announce the compensation package for present and future victims of asbestos diseases
Make the asbestos companies criminally liable for knowingly exposing citizens and consumers of asbestos products

Take note of Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare Ministry's statement in Rajya Sabha saying: "Studies by the National Institute of Occupational Health, Ahmedabad, have shown that long-term exposure to any type of asbestos can lead to the development of asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma'' on August 18, 2003

Take cognisance of the order of Hon’ble Supreme Court’s bench of Chief Justice of India dated January 21, 2011

Take note of The White Asbestos (Ban on Use and Import) Bill, 2009 introduced in Rajya Sabha and the order of the Kerala State Human Rights Commission dated 31st January 2009 banning the use of asbestos in schools and hospitals

Consider the deliberations of the International Conference on "Emerging Trends in Preventing Occupational Respiratory Diseases and Cancers in Workplace" at Maulana Azad Medical College, New Delhi in March 2011 following which New Delhi Declaration Seeking Elimination of all forms of Asbestos including Chrysotile from India on 24 March, 2011

Take note of the fact that every international health agency of repute including the World Health Organization, the International Labor Organization, International Agency for Research on Cancer, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and the American Cancer Society agree there is no safe level of asbestos exposure. Most recently, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) reconfirmed that all commercial asbestos fibers - including chrysotile, the most commercially used form of asbestos - cause lung cancer and mesothelioma. In addition, IARC newly confirmed that there is sufficient evidence that asbestos causes ovarian cancer and reconfirmed asbestos causes laryngeal cancer

Recall that the World Health Organisation's latest estimate notes that asbestos already claims 107,000 lives a year. Even that conservative estimate means every five minutes around the clock a person dies of asbestos related disease. The ongoing use of the asbestos fibre kills at least 300 people every day

Respect the scientific process of the Rotterdam Convention and approve the recommendations of the Chemical Review Committee to list chrysotile asbestos in the PIC list of hazardous substances

Recall the verdict even by the World Trade Organization (WTO) which validated the rights of Member States to prohibit the import and use of goods which contain carcinogenic substances such as chrysotile asbestos (white asbestos). On March 12, 2001 the WTO's Appellate Body (AB) issued its ruling in the case of Canada vs. the European Communities Measures Affecting Asbestos and Asbestos-Containing Products

Refer to World Bank's Asbestos Good Practice Guidelines. These Guidelines, as well as its earlier Environmental, Health & Safety General Guidelines, require that the use of asbestos must be avoided in new construction in projects funded by the World Bank around the world. The Guidelines also provide information on available safer alternatives to asbestos.

It brings discredit to the scientific temper of India as a nation that it has failed to factor in the fact that asbestos is banned in 55 countries, including the European Union and Japan in its policy making. India is the largest importer of asbestos, according to the United Nations Commodity Trade Statistics Database. Most of it goes into making corrugated roofing sheets as building material.

In such a backdrop, it is germane to ask why is Government of India still a leading importer of asbestos?

It is submitted that Canadian government which exports chrysotile asbestos to India has removed it from Canadian Parliament and its Prime Minister's Home.

Believe it or not, India has technically banned mining of asbestos (including chrysotile) but allows import, manufacture and use of asbestos based products which are proven to be deadly!

The UN's Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade is an important tool to protect human health and the environment by controlling trade in hazardous chemicals and pesticides that meet the requirements of the Convention.

The Chemical Review Committee plays a critical role by ensuring that the review mechanism of the Convention is used objectively and that science is the cornerstone of the review process. If the recommendations of the Chemical Review Committee are obstructed (which India has done since 2004), the Convention will fail in achieving its mandate. Instead of being based on science, public health decisions will be based on political expediency.

It is indeed unbecoming of a small number of Parties to the UN agreement (like Government of India), who have been misguided by commercial interest of chrysotile asbestos companies to the Convention hostage by refusing to cooperate with the scientific process of the Convention and the will of the overwhelming majority or Parties.

It does not behove the stature of Government of India to wield a veto over the Convention against the listing of chrysotile asbestos as a hazardous substance and deny itself the sovereign right to utilize the prior informed consent procedure. When a hazardous substance is listed under Annex III of the Convention, Parties like Government of India has the sovereign right to utilize the procedure.

It is an act of immorality of Government of Canada to have prevailed upon Government of India to obstruct the recommendation of the Chemical Review Committee regarding chrysotile asbestos to protect the blind lust for commercial profit at the cost of the health of Indian citizens and workers.

It is quite sad that Government of Canada has misinformed and misguided Government of India to deny itself the right to control its own
borders from hazardous substances under the manifest influence of chrysotile asbestos companies.

The Rotterdam Convention is based on the principle of environmental justice. It has been witnessed that increasingly, hazardous chemicals and pesticides that are banned or severely restricted in industrialized countries are being shipped to developing countries or countries with economies in transition, where resources to safely monitor and manage these dangerous substances are often lacking or nonexistent.

The Rotterdam Convention addresses this inequality in exposure to environmental and human risk by empowering countries with the right to Prior Informed Consent. All Parties to the Convention have a legal and moral obligation to support the right to Prior Informed Consent in the Convention as an important tool for overcoming the widening gap.

In such a backdrop, it is submitted that in an order dated January 21, 201, Hon’ble Supreme Court’s bench of Chief Justice of India Justice S.H. Kapadia, Justice K.S. Panicker Radhakrishnan and Justice Swatanter Kumar has 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.”

The Bench of Chief Justice of India 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.”

It is also noteworthy that the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) too has passed an order in Case No:693/30/97-98 recommending that the asbestos sheets roofing be replaced with roofing made up of some other material that would not be harmful. The Annual Report of NHRC 2003-2004 refers to a Report entitled “Asbestos – Health and Environment – an in-depth Study “submitted by the Institute of Public Health Engineers, India. The study underlines that safe and controlled use of asbestos is not possible.

You will agree that human biology is same everywhere if the asbestos is deemed hazardous in the developed countries, it must be deemed so in India too.

In view of the above, it is your solemn duty to protect Indian citizens from the the exposure of fibers of chrysotile asbestos. In pursuance of the same as a first step there is a compelling reason for Government of India to support listing of chrysotile asbestos in the Prior Informed Consent (PIC) procedure list of hazardous materials at the 5th meeting of the Conference of Parties (COP5) to the UN's Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade (20 to 24 June, 2011, Geneva).

We will be happy to meet and share additional information.

Your Sincerely
Gopal Krishna
Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI)
ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA)
New Delhi
Mb: 9818089660
E-mail: krishna2777@gmail.com, toxicswatchalliance@gmail.com
Blog: banasbestosindia.blogspot.com
Web: www.toxicswatch.com

Cc
President of India
Chairman, National Human Rights Commission
Vice President of India
Speaker, Lok Sabha
Union Finance Minister
Union Commerce Minister
Union Health Minister
Union Law Minister
Union Environment Minister
Union Agriculture Minister
Cabinet Secretary, Government of India

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