Make India Asbestos Free

Make India Asbestos Free
For Asbestos Free India

Journal of Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI). Asbestos Free India campaign of BANI is inspired by trade union movement and right to health campaign. BANI has been working since 2000. It works with peoples movements, doctors, researchers and activists besides trade unions, human rights, environmental, consumer and public health groups. BANI demands criminal liability for companies and medico-legal remedy for victims.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Killing the Future: Asbestos use in Asia

— Stephen Frost

The first anniversary of a landmark conference in Bangkok has been marked with the publication of a dossier exposing the devastating repercussions of Asia’s increasing consumption of asbestos, an acknowledged carcinogen. Information and data previously unobtainable in English form the core of Killing the Future: Asbestos Use in Asia (download full report here - opens as PDF 1.4 MB). Favourite quote?

“Asbestos cement used in India is free from all health hazards.” AK Saraf, Chairman of the Asbestos Cement Products Manufacturers’ Association, India.

CSR recommendation: Companies must adopt global policies for avoiding the use of new asbestos products and carefully manage in-place asbestos products in existing infrastructure.

Update: Please see a letter in response to this posting below the fold from Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI) - the organisation that published the book. His letter is well worth reading and offers a powerful condemnation of the quote by AK Saraf above.

This is with reference to a piece “Killing the Future: Asbestos use in Asia” on your website published on 8th August, 2007.

BANI objected to the statement of A K Saraf of Asbestos Cement Products Manufacturers’ Association quoted in the piece is highly misleading. In India the asbestos industry has mastered the art of misinformation campaign. The statement is an expression of the same.

The book “Killing the Future: Asbestos Use in Asia” provides an authentic account of health hazards from asbestos in India. BANI is one of the publishers of the book.

It is inappropriate for Corporate Social Responsibility in Asia to allow its web space to be used by likes of A K Saraf of Asbestos Industry to spread falsehoods such as “Asbestos cement used in India is free from all health hazards.”

BANI condemns this statement because it is inhuman, anti-worker, anti-environment and against established public health facts with regard to hazards from this killer fiber. There are some 673 asbestos factory units which employs casual and contract workers who are destined to die due one of the most painful deaths imaginable as a result of incurable asbestos related diseases.

Even a Supreme Court Committee headed Secretary, India Ministry of Environment and Forests submitted to the Supreme Court in August 2006 that 16 % of the workers exposed to asbestos are suffering from asbestos related diseases.

Although the apex court of India has ruled that the Government of India must comply with ILO resolutions, so far the ILO resolution (June 14, 2006) stating “the elimination of the future use of asbestos and the identification and proper management of asbestos currently in place are the most effective means to protect workers from asbestos exposures and to prevent future asbestos-related disease and deaths” has not been acted upon.

India has banned all forms of asbestos except Chrysotile Asbestos. Mining of asbestos and export of asbestos waste is also banned in India. Canada is the biggest exporter of asbestos to India.

In India, sale of the killer fiber called Canadian Chrysotile Asbestos is promoted through Asbestos Information Centre (AIC) and Asbestos Cement Products Manufacturers’ Association. Indian Government seems to be in a vice like grip of Canadian asbestos mafia.

According to information provided by the Information Commissioner of Canada, “Canada is working with other countries to promote chrysotile asbestos. The Indian government has worked diligently in cooperation with the Indian AIC and the Canadian Asbestos Institute.” Canadian High Commission in India says, “A ruling which states that subjecting a worker to asbestos is a violation of human rights could have far reaching consequences whether or not it is binding". It also notes, “AIC is of the belief that problems with safe use of asbestos will arise in the unorganised sector. These include small manufacturers who cannot afford to either install the equipment necessary to safely use asbestos or invest in the health needs of their workers.” AIC accepts that “unorganised sector does use imported products that they acquire through agents.” It is noteworthy that Indian Government consults and trusts this very AIC in matters related to continued use of Chrysotile.

Government of India’s “Office Memorandum NO.6 (6)/94 – Cement” of the Ministry of Industry has stated: “The Department has generally not been recommending any case of Industrial License to any new unit for the creation of fresh capacity of asbestos products in the recent past due to the apprehension that prolonged exposure to asbestos leads to serious health hazards". But under tremendous influence of the industry, the government has changed its stance and has not only ignored in the global evidence against this killer fiber but also has consistently made asbestos artificially cheaper.

BANI demands criminal prosecution of those responsible for letting workers and citizens suffer asbestos exposures. It is alarming to note the misinformation by the Chrysotile asbestos cement industry and AIC since they will have Indians believe that the pattern of asbestos is entirely different in India hence most of the diseases pattern seen in the West bear no relevance to the magnitude of Indian experience.

It is in this backdrop that the outcome of the Chrysotile asbestos study by at National Institute of Occupational Health (NIOH), Ahmedabad is highly suspect because it has been partly funded by the Chrysotile asbestos industry along with Indian Ministry of Chemicals.

When the world is preparing and planning to get rid of all forms of asbestos, the asbestos industry makes India look stupid to by pressurising the government through its political influence to keep promoting it.

BANI appreciates the fact that CSR Asia has recommended, “Companies must adopt global policies for avoiding the use of new asbestos products” but sadly asbestos industry and the Government of India is acting contrary to such a sane advice.

Lust for profit and the lack of political will is letting the unpardonable criminal act of exposing humans to the killer asbestos fiber goes on and yet Canada calls itself a civilized country. Indian National Congress led coalition Government too remains a callous collaborator in the ongoing acts of barbarism.

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