With reference to the reply of Haribhai Parthibhai Chaudhary, Union Minister of State for Mines and Coal dated 28 December, 2017 to the questions raised by Dr Gokaraju Ganga Raju, Member of Parliament on the subject of regarding Import of Asbestos and a meeting with Narendra Singh Tomar, Union Minister of Mines, Steel and Labour on 11 June, 2014 on the need to ban asbestos in India, a letter has been sent to Union Minister of Rural Development, Panchayati Raj and Mines submitting the following information which has not been brought to Parliament's attention by the concerned officials of the ministry:
1. Dr Raju asked whether it is a fact that the import of white asbestos from Russia, Kazakhstan, Brazil and China continues to rise according to Indian Minerals Yearbook published in December, 2015 despite technical ban on mining of all kinds of asbestos in India; (b) if so, the details thereof and the reasons therefor; (c) whether the Government proposes to curb imports of deadly material of asbestos; and (d) if so, the details thereof and if not, the reasons therefor?.
Ministry of Mines replied saying: “White Asbestos is used for various purposes viz. asbestos cement pipes, roofing of households, asbestos based manufacturing products like brake linings etc. India’s asbestos requirement is mainly met through imports from Russia, Kazakhstan, Brazil and Republic of China since the mining activity of asbestos mineral has been banned in the country on health ground.”
The reply of Ministry of Mines did not disclose that Brazil’s Supreme Court has banned all kinds of asbestos to safeguard the health of Brazilians. On August 24, the constitutional Supreme Court of Brazil decided the production and the selling are unconstitutional. The president of the supreme court observed, 'In concern of the environment, if any doubts, it must be prohibited so that the rights for us today and tomorrow won't be lost for the ones that come after us.' It held that the extraction, processing, use and marketing of all forms of asbestos, including white chrysotile asbestos violate the Brazilian federal constitution.
2. With regard to question “whether the Government proposes to curb imports of deadly material of asbestos, Ministry of Mines replied saying, "Information in this regard is not held in Ministry of Mines since the import/export of minerals is regulated through EXIM policy of Directorate General of Foreign Trade, Ministry of Commerce and Industry."
Ministry of Mines did not inform the Parliament that the 19 page long Vision Statement on Environment and Human Health of the environment ministry states: ‘Alternatives to asbestos may be used to the extent possible and use of asbestos may be phased out’. The relevant URL of Vision Statement on Environment and Human Health is available atwww.envfor.nic.in/sites/
default/files/visenvhealth.pdf . It is noteworthy that 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. World Health Organization estimates that asbestos claims 107,000 lives a year. Even this conservative estimate means that every five minutes a person dies of asbestos related disease. Asbestos of all kinds is banned in some 60 countries, including the European Union and Japan, Brazil. The Judicial Inquiry Commission headed by Justice J C Shah, a former chief Justice of India appointed by Government of India in 1977 to inquire into all the excesses committed during the period of Emergency (1975 - 77) noted in its report that during Emergency, the ruling party and its acolytes had proposed to put the opposition leaders in jails which had asbestos roofs. The recent estimate is that asbestos causes 194,000 occupational deaths globally every year.
It did not factor in the reply of the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare in the Lok Sabha wherein said, “The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has informed that major health hazards of asbestos include cancer of lung, mesothelioma of pleura and peritoneum and specific fibrous disease of lung known as asbestosis. All types of asbestos fibers are responsible for human mortality and morbidity. Studies have been carried out at National Institute of Occupational Research, an Institute of ICMR, Ahmedabad which show that workers when exposed to higher workplace concentration of asbestos fiber have higher incidence of interstitial lung disease and pulmonary function impairment. Directorate General Factory Advice Service and Labour Institutes, (DGFASLI) under Ministry of Labour & Employment has intimated data of workers suffering from Asbestosis in factories registered under the Factories Act, 1948.As per the information provided by DGFASLI, it is informed that 21 no. of Asbestosis cases were reported in Gujarat in 2010 and 2 cases in Maharashtra in the year 2012.” The reply is available here: http://pib.nic.in/newsite/
It did not factor in the fact that as Union Health Minister Smt. Sushma Swaraj informed Rajya Sabha that "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.
3. Ministry of Mines have informed the Parliament about the remedial steps taken by the Government for regulation and safe use of asbestos in the country and cited provisions of the Factories Act, 1948 and rules framed there under, manufacture, handling and processing of asbestos and its products is declared as hazardous process and the Schedule XIV – Handling and Processing of Asbestos, Manufacture of any Article or Substance of Asbestos and any other Process of Manufacture or otherwise in which Asbestos is used in any form as a dangerous operation under section 87 of the Factories Act, 1948. The ministry has also submitted that “Government of India by Notification in Official Gazette has reduced the permissible level of Air borne Asbestos fibres in work environment to 20.1 fibre/cc.”
It did not inform the Parliament that some 60 countries have imposed total ban on all kinds of “asbestos” products because the current health risks associated with the use of “asbestos” are not acceptable, “controlled use” is not possible. (Reference: www.cma.ca/cmaj/vol-164/issue-
The ministry did not inform the Parliament that “WHO, in collaboration with the International Labour Organization and other intergovernmental organizations and civil society, works with countries towards elimination of asbestos-related diseases by: recognizing that the most efficient way to eliminate asbestos-related diseases is to stop the use of all types of asbestos.” With resolution 60.26, the World Health Assembly requested World Health Organization (WHO) to carry out a global campaign for the elimination of asbestos-related diseases "…bearing in mind a differentiated approach to regulating its various forms - in line with the relevant international legal instruments and the latest evidence for effective interventions…". Cost-effective interventions for prevention of occupational lung diseases from exposure to asbestos are among the policy options for implementing the "Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Non communicable Diseases" (2013-2020), as endorsed by the Sixty-sixth World Health Assembly in resolution WHA66.10 in 2013. Eliminating asbestos-related diseases is particularly targeted at countries still using chrysotile asbestos, in addition to assistance in relation to exposures arising from historical use of all forms of asbestos. (Reference: http://www.who.int/
It did not inform the Parliament about the notification of Union Ministry of Labour and Employment dated January 23, 2012 constituting an Advisory Committee of 13 members to prevent exposure to asbestos by the workers in pursuance of the judgment of Hon’ble Supreme Court. There are four terms of reference (TOR) of this Advisory Committee. Two of these TORs deal with ‘ILO guidelines’ and ‘fresh resolution passed by ILO”. The reply does not recognize that the ‘fresh resolution passed by ILO’ refers to the above mentioned June 2006 resolution. In January 2012, Union Ministry of Labour set up this Advisory Committee to implement Supreme Court order issued 17 years ago since International Labour Organization (ILO) has also made certain specific directions vide its Resolution of 2006 introducing a ban on all mining, manufacture, recycling and use of all forms of asbestos. In compliance of the six specific direction with the order of Hon’ble Supreme Court dated January 27, 1995 in the Writ Petition (Civil) N. 206 of 1986 to maintain the health record of every worker up to minimum period of 40 years from the beginning of the employment for 15 years after the retirement or cessation whichever is later. Hon’ble Court directed the Union and state governments in the Consumer Education and Research Centre (CERC) vs Union of India case “to review the standards of permissible exposure limit value of fibre… in tune with the international standards reducing the permissible limit”.
In its 1995 judgment, Supreme Court of India has held that “The development of the carcinogenic risk due to asbestos or any other carcinogenic agent does not require continuous exposure. The cancer risk does not cease when the exposure to the carcinogenic agent ceases, but rather the individual carries the increased risk for the remaining years of life. The exposure to asbestos and the resultant long tragic chain of adverse medical, legal and societal consequences, reminds the legal and social responsibility of the employer or producer not to endanger the workmen or the community or the society. He or it is not absolved of the inherent responsibility to the exposed workmen or the society at large. They have the responsibility-legal, moral and social to provide protective measures to the workmen and to the public or all those who are exposed to the harmful consequences of their products. Mere adoption of regulations for the enforcement has no real meaning and efficiency without professional, industrial and governmental resources and legal and moral determination to implement such regulations.”
It did not share details which Dr. R.B. Raidas, Deputy Director General, Directorate General of Factory Advice Service & Labour Institutes. (DGFASLI) has revealed saying 36 out of 1000 workers have been found to be suffering from asbestos related diseases. He revealed that DGFASLI had studied some 8, 000 workers and found that some 228 workers were exposed. But he expressed his ignorance about whether they have been compensated. He shared this information at the 3-day International Meet on Climate, The Workplace and the Lungs”. Dr H N Saiyed, former Director, National Institute of Occupational Health (NIOH), Ahmedabad stated that paying compensation to the victims of asbestos related diseases is a long process. He added, asbestos does not have a threshold limit. The best way to stop the diseases is to stop its use. Politicians are hiding behind absence of data which is not being collected. He shared this at the conference. This conference was organized by Maulana Azad Medical College, New Delhi organised by Centre for Occupational and Environmental Health in partnership with Drexel University, School of Public Health, Collegium Ramazzini, Ministry of Environment & Forests, Ministry of Labour and Employment, Government of India and Heart of England, NHS Foundation Trust in December 2012.
It did not reveal that ghe government agencies like Directorate General, Factory Advice Service and Labour Institutes (DGFASLI) took note of Prevalence of Asbestosis and Related Disorders in an Asbestos Fiber Processing Unit in West Bengal as early as in 1996.
It is noteworthy that Labour and Employment Department, Government of Gujarat has submitted that “Asbestosis is declared as notifiable occupational diseases in Third Schedule under section 89 and 90 of the Factories Act. The workers working in the registered factories are eligible for compensation either under the Employees Compensation Act, 1923 or under the Employees State Insurance Act.” It has revealed that “22 workers of Gujarat Composite Ltd, Kaligam, Ahmedabad, who were suspected victims of asbestosis were sent for medical check-up to National Institute of Occupational Health. Out of them, following two workers were confirmed for Asbestosis by N.I.O.H.: (1) Shri Hazarilal Manraj and (2) Shri Sahejram B Yadav.” It has disclosed that “Letters dated 24/12/2002, 16/10/2006 and 19/1/2007 were issued to the Gujarat Composite Ltd. to pay compensation of Rs 1 lac to the above two victims as per the direction of the Supreme Court. Gujarat Composite Ltd. has denied to pay compensation to the above workers as the company has challenged the report of N.I.O.H.” It may be noted that Gujarat Composite Ltd (formerly named Digvijay Cement Company) appears to be attempting to hide behind myriad corporate veils by changing names and by outsourcing its work (to agencies like Apurva Vinimay and Infrastructure Division).
It did not share the findings of Planning Commission’s 159 page report dated September 2001, which noted that “The workers are also exposed to a host of hazardous substances, which have a potential to cause serious occupational diseases such as asbestosis…” It has recorded that various studies conducted by the Central Labour Institute have revealed substantial prevalence of occupational health disorders amongst the workers such as Asbestosis. The prevalence rate for Asbestosis was reported to be 7.25%. It has been acknowledged that “At the same time the number of occupational diseases reported is very meager…This makes it evident that early identification of occupational diseases is required. It has recommended that “To meet these requirements, measures are needed for diagnostic facilities and appropriate training in the field of occupational health. Occupational health hazards and diseases to the workmen employed in asbestos industries are of great concern to the industries, Govt. and the public. The Honorable Supreme Court of India in its judgement dated 27th January, 1995 relating to the Public Interest Litigation No.206 of 1986 had given several directions concerning the protective measures to be taken against the hazards of exposure to asbestos at workplaces such as mining and manufacturing activities. In the light of Supreme Court directives, it is proposed to launch a comprehensive programme for the protection of the health of the workers engaged in hazardous industries with adequate mechanisms for monitoring of work environment and diagnosis and control of disease.”
It did not inform the Parliament that “Government of India is considering the ban on use of chrysotile asbestos in India to protect the workers and the general population against primary and secondary exposure to Chrysotile form of Asbestos” as per concept paper presented by Government of India at the two-day 5th India-EU Joint Seminar on “Occupational Safety and Health” during 19-20 September, 2011.
It did not take note of the fact that Dow Chemicals Company, USA has set aside $2.2 billion in compensation fund to address future asbestos-related liabilities arising out of acquisition of Union Carbide Corporation and its Indian investments in 1999. Many manufacturers of asbestos-containing products have gone bankrupt in USA as a result of asbestos litigation. Union Ministry of Labour, Government of India should also set up a compensation fund to provide compensation to the asbestos victims of past exposure by making asbestos based companies liable for knowingly exposing workers, consumers and citizens to asbestos fibers.
It did not inform the Parliament about compensation fund for victims of asbestos related diseases which are incurable but preventable diseases like lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis.
4. In its reply Ministry of Mines said, “Grant of fresh mining leases and renewal of existing mining leases for Asbestos was banned by the Ministry of Mines in the country on Health Grounds.”
But the ministry did not disclose to the Parliament the contradictory position of the Government of India on asbestos given the fact that while the mining of asbestos has been technically banned by the government, but it allows its import and that even from the countries which do not prefer its domestic use. Is it the case that our own asbestos is scientifically established as poisonous but the foreign asbestos is non-asbestos? This kind of scientific position makes India a laughing stock in the comity of nations.
In view of the above ministry's attention has been drawn towards the judgment in the asbestos case filed by the Consumer Education & Research Centre (CERC) (Verdict is available at: http://indiankanoon.org/
doc/1657323/), Hon’ble Supreme Court of India directed all asbestos factories to keep the health records of their workers for 40 years and/or 15 years after their retirement. The environmental clearance conditions impose a duty on the asbestos factories to keep health record of workers but these conditions of environment ministry are routinely violated with impunity. Hon’ble Court has also directed that a compensation of Rs 1 lakh be paid to the asbestos victims.
While India imports white chrysotile asbestos from countries like Russia, Brazil, Zimbabwe, Kazakhstan and others, the fact is that Brazilian Supreme Court has banned use of asbestos and declared it as unconstitutional. It is relevant to note that Europe has officially admitted that 15,000 people die per year (40/day) due to asbestos related diseases. All forms of asbestos cause asbestosis, pleural plaques/fibrosis, lung cancer, larynx and ovarian cancer, mesothelioma among workers and consumers. Further, also increased risks of gastrointestinal cancer and nonHodgkin lymphoma have been reported in asbestos workers. Given the fact that human biology is same across the globes no government can assume that Indians are immune to asbestos related diseases and deaths.
Unsound science has been put to use to deny compensation claims of people with asbestos-related diseases. Nature, the reputed science journal (Vol.468, 16 December, 2010 issue) observed, “Asbestos scandal Irresponsible policies could cause an epidemic of malignant lung disease. The minerals industry has long tried to convince regulators that white asbestos - or chrysotile - is safe when handled properly. It argues that only the already controlled forms - blue and brown asbestos, known collectively as amphibole - are of concern. To support this, industry advocates point to scientific data and studies. Yet although the relevant literature is a mire of conflicting results, this should not be seen as an endorsement of their position. Rather, it reflects a string of industry-sponsored studies designed only to cast doubt on the clear links between chrysotile and lung disease. These are familiar tactics and several countries, including Britain, have seen through them and made the correct decision to ban all forms of asbestos, all of which have been proven to be carcinogenic in humans.” (http://www.eesc.europa.eu/
resources/docs/xaver_baur.pdf) Similar situation exists in India. It may be recalled that Navy officials objected to presence of asbestos in aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov which was inducted into the Indian Navy as INS Vikramaditya after asbestos decontamination. Union of India’s Budget 2011-12 had made reference to asbestos related diseases by including it under the Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana to cover ‘unorganized sector workers in hazardous mining and associated industries like asbestos etc”.
While on a visit to New Delhi, Dr Alec Farquhar as Managing Director, Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers, Canada said, “We now have around 500 asbestos cancer cases every year in Ontario from a population of 13 million. If you (India) continue on your current path, you will multiply our death count by 100 times. That would be 50, 000 Indian workers dying every year from asbestos. In Ontario, we learned that safe use of asbestos is impossible. I urge you from the bottom of my heart, please do not make the same mistake as we made in Canada. Stop using asbestos and use a safe alternative.” It is clear that lack of documentation and lack of environmental and occupational health infrastructure does not mean lack of victims of asbestos related diseases.
The verdict of five judges of Japan’s Supreme Court of February 17, 2015 that has upheld a ruling that found asbestos used at a plant of Kubota Corporation caused fatal mesothelioma in a man who lived near the plant and ordered the company to pay ¥31.9 million in damages to his relatives. The petitioners were relatives of Kojiro Yamauchi, who died at age 80 after working for two decades about 200 meters from the Kubota plant in Amagasaki, Hyogo Prefecture. His relatives and those of Ayako Yasui, who died at age 85 having lived about 1 km from the plant, sought damages from both Kubota and the government. In October, 2014 the Supreme Court ruled that the government was responsible for failing to protect workers from exposure at asbestos factories in Sennan, Osaka Prefecture. Reference: http://www.
japantimes.co.jp/news/2015/02/ 19/national/crime-legal/top- court-upholds-kubotas- liability-in-asbestos-death- case/#.VO3inSw8RkQ It is noteworthy that Japan has banned asbestos of all kinds including white chrysotile asbestos. Meanwhile, our neighbor Nepal has become the first country in South Asia which going in the direction of banning asbestos.
There are fibre substitutes that have been evaluated by WHO are listed in the Summary Consensus Report of WHO Workshop on Mechanisms of Fibre Carcinogenesis and Assessment of Chrysotile Asbestos Substitutes.
It has been noted that sooner or later, the asbestos industry will go bankrupt in India because they will have to pay huge amount of money in compensation. For every legal injury in the law there is a legal remedy. The ministry ought to make sure that victims of asbestos related diseases get at least monetary compensation as remedy. The asbestos industry must be persuaded to phase out in two phases. In the first phase the goal should be to eliminate use of chrysotile asbestos and to prepare a register of the number of exposed workers and consumers in the country. In the second phase, the goal should be to create incentives for the use of safer materials, ensure, create a registry of asbestos laden buildings and victims of asbestos-related diseases and ensure decontamination of the former and compensation for the latter. There is an immediate need to conduct an audit of the current status of the victims of asbestos related diseases from the government hospital records in the country and make it mandatory for medical colleges to provide training for doctors so that they can diagnose diseases caused by occupational, non-occupational and environmental exposures to killer fibers and substances. India should not allow itself to be misled by asbestos producers like Russia in this regard now that Canada has rightly stopped mining of white chrysotile asbestos almost like India due its “deleterious” impact on health. It should learn from Brazil and South Africa who are members of BRICS and not from Russia and China.
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