The three Schedules under Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions (OSHWC) Code 2020 refer to hazardous asbestos, banned in 70 nations. It also refers to asbestosis, an incurable disease.
The report of Planning Commission of India's Working Group on Occupational Safety and Health (Tenth Five Year Plan) revealed that hazardous substances like asbestos which have a potential to cause serious occupational diseases such as asbestosis. It pointed out substantial prevalence of occupational health disorders amongst the workers such as Asbestosis. The prevalence rate for Asbestosis was reported to be 7.25%.
The Vision Statement of Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change recommends phase out of chrysotile asbestos saying, "Alternatives to asbestos may be used to the extent possible and use of asbestos may be phased out." http://moef.nic.in/divisions/cpoll/envheal th/visenvhealth.pdf
The Concept Paper of Union Ministry of Labour presented at Fifth India-EU Seminar states, "The Government of India is considering the ban the mining and use of chrysotile asbestos in India to protect the workers and the general population
against primary and secondary exposure to Chrysotile form of asbestos".
In such a backdrop, it is strange that, the list of 427 hazardous chemicals/substances does not mention asbestos in Sub-Schedule-I of Schedule I & the list of 179 toxic chemicals in Sub-Schedule-3 of Schedule-II under OSHWC (Bihar) Rules, 2021.
But sub-schedule-15 of Schedule-III deals with "Handling and Processing of Asbestos, Manufacture of any Article of Asbestos and any Process of Manufacture or otherwise in which Asbestos is used in any Form" under the OSHWC (Bihar) Rules.
It is apparent that asbestos is not mentioned in the list of hazardous chemicals because Indian government's continued opposition to listing of carcinogenic chrysotile asbestos in the UN 's Prior Informed Consent (PIC) list under UN's Rotterdam Convention on PIC Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade along with governments of Pakistan, Russia, Kazakhstan, Zimbabwe, Cuba, Kyrgyzstan. In 2011, India had supported it's inclusion in the UN list of hazardous substances but under the influence of asbestos producers like Russia it reversed it's stance later on.
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.
As per the provisions of the Factories Act, 1948 and rules framed thereunder, manufacture, handling and processing of Asbestos and its products is declared as Hazardous Process. Further, Govt. of India has prepared 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. This Act has been subsumed under the OSHWC Code, 2020.
Further, the Govt. of India by notification in official Gazette has reduced the permissible level of Airborne Asbestos fibers in work environment 20.1fiber/cc.
The Ministry of Mines informed that the Grant of fresh mining leases and renewal of existing mining leases for Asbestos are presently banned in the country on Health Grounds.
This was stated by the Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare in a written reply to the Lok Sabha.
In such a context, it is unbecoming of India's scientific stature to adopt inconsistent and indefensible position with regard to complete elimination of chrysotile asbestos and chrysotile based products.