When will India ban import of Russian, Chinese and Kazakh asbestos?
The Supreme Court and high courts in India have been consistent in voicing their concerns regarding exposure to these carcinogenic mineral fibres while asking the central and the state governments to update their laws as per the fresh resolution of International Labour Organisation (ILO), which has sought elimination of future use of white chrysotile asbestos to safeguard human health. But the governments in India have not complied with its directions so far. Only cheerful news comes from Bihar which has become the first State in India to announce that it will not allow setting up of asbestos factories in the State and 22 asbestos factories owner, CK Birla Group's Hyderabad Industries Limited (HIL), a member of Asbestos Cement Products Manufacturers Association (ACPMA), has entered non-asbestos, eco-friendly, autoclaved roofing solution.
Fearing manslaughter cases, asbestos companies the world over are shifting to the non-asbestos sector. India's most deprived and marginalised communities – as many as 16.4 per cent in the rural areas and 20 per cent in the urban areas – live and work under asbestos roofs. Some 79 per cent of Dalits (200 million) live in such houses. The fact is that no private or public building in India is asbestos-free and almost all water supply pipes in the country are made of asbestos cement. Asbestos is harmful in its entire life cycle.
Significantly, First Schedule of Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions (OSHWC) Code, 2020 refers to industries involving hazardous processes including manufacture, handling and processing of asbestos and its products and its Third Schedule lists incurable asbestosis as a Notifiable Disease. Given the fact that some 70 countries have banned the products, immediate steps are required in the supreme national interest to safeguard the health of present and the future generations. Alas, wisdom does not dawn without a high fee it seems. India imported 21% of all the asbestos from Brazil. Following a Brazilian court's decision, there is a compelling logic for the Union of India and the State governments to pay heed to the verdict of the Supreme Court of India to update the laws in the light of ILO resolution of 2006 to eliminate all kinds of asbestos and related incurable and fatal diseases.
The Brazilian court's immediate suspension of the extraction, exploration, processing, marketing, transport and export of asbestos cancerous minerals is one of the most sensible decisions to come by in recent times. Yet exporting continues here. However, India is yet to implement the 26-year-old verdict of the Supreme Court of India seeking adoption of a fresh ILO resolution that seeks elimination of asbestos. It is indeed strange that members of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) group are refusing to learn from one another to safeguard the health of their citizens. Brazil, a country which banned asbestos, has been exporting it to India. South Africa, which has banned asbestos, has been importing asbestos products from India. Russia and China refuse to pay heed to asbestos-related laws in South Africa, Brazil and India. India has banned mining of asbestos but continues to import it from Russia, China and Kazakhstan.
Is this the way to demonstrate scientific temper?