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.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Doctoring asbestos study to promote its use

Documents unearthed under the Right to Information Act reveals how the industry added Rs. 16 lakhs to the Government's Rs. 44 lakhs to commission a study by National Institute of Occupational Health (NIOH) to "specifically indicate how technology has made working conditions [in asbestos factories] better." The Industry-Ministry study is titled Implementation of Rotterdam Convention on Prior Informed Consent Procedures - Study of Health Hazards/ Environment Hazards Resulting from the Use of Chrysotile Variety of Asbestos in the Country. Chrysotile is popularly known as white asbestos. These documents were shared with the media today at the Press Club, Delhi.

It is noteworthy that the information gained using Canadian Right to Information corroborates the same. The Information Commissioner of Canada informed, “Canada is working with other countries to promote chrysotile asbestos. The Indian government has worked diligently in cooperation with the Indian Asbestos Information Centre (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.

Acknowledging the hazards from asbestos, Anbumani Ramadoss, Union Health Minister informed the parliament saying, "…regarding asbestos, a lot of poor people use it. As regards the issue pertaining to banning of asbestos, as a health issue, the Government certainly has not taken it up. It is an occupational hazard and people working in the asbestos factories are prone to lung cancer, but we are taking the enormity of the usage of asbestos. Mostly, poor people in the villages use it. Hence, I cannot take a decision on this issue." The enormity of usage is no excuse to expose Indian workers and citizens to this deadly fiber. Without amendment in the existing Import Policy by the Union Ministry of Commerce & Industry for white asbestos, the asbestos consumption pattern is unlikely to change.

The study that has now been exposed through the Right to Information is supposed to be presented at the next meeting of the Chemical Review Committee of the Rotterdam Convention in March 2008 to rationalize its third veto against the UN action on white asbestos. It will also form the basis for India's domestic policy on continued use of asbestos.

The next conference of the Parties to the Rotterdam Convention will be held from 27 to 31 October 2008 in Rome. Chrysotile asbestos will be on the agenda of Fourth Conference of Parties (COP-4) as was agreed at COP-3. This treaty that is a result the efforts of United Nations came into force in February 2004. The text of the Convention was adopted in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Indian government irrespective of the ruling party has consistently colluded with asbestos interests.

The COP-3 of Rotterdam Convention held in Geneva, Switzerland in October 2006 failed to bring Prior Informed Consent (PIC) Treaty to apply to chrysotile (white asbestos), a known human carcinogen that represents 94 per cent of world’s asbestos. The Indian delegation comprised of Brig. A K Sethi, Executive Director of the Asbestos Cement Products Manufacturers Association making Indian delegation, the only one with industry representatives sitting with the official delegation.

Although 95 per cent of the countries sought its inclusion, the COP-3 failed to list this and the decision to include it has been proposed in COP-4 in 2008. The Indian delegation has consistently argued that the science behind the recommendation to list chrysotile asbestos was not categorical. It claimed that India was in the process of studying on the hazards of pure chrysotile.

The minutes of the Review Committee obtained recently through Right to Information Act dated 19 December, 2006 reads: "The report will be finalised after due discussions with the asbestos industry." Another meeting minutes dated 18 April, 2007 reports that "...the results of the study which was underway could not be shared [with public] till the same was finalised." Clearly, a scientific study that is finalised after discussion with the corporate interests is grossly conflict of interest ridden and deserves to be scrapped.

As per data released by UN Statistics Division, India imported about 306,000 MT of asbestos in 2006. Of which 152, 820 MT was imported from Russia and 63, 980 MT from Canada. This trend got a boost from Union Finance Minister, P Chidambaram who announced a 15% reduction on custom duties for asbestos in his Budget speech. The rising consumption is a result of a Made-to-order science that gets exposed by the documents that shows how the Union Ministry of Chemicals, acting in collusion with the asbestos industry, is manufacturing science to back its pre-determined position to fight global regulation on the killer fibre by reiterating that 'controlled and safe use' of white asbestos is acceptable both to the white asbestos industry and the Indian government.

Meanwhile, Dr Barry Castleman, an internationally respected expert on asbestos who was in India in December 2007 commented: “Anyone who says there's a controlled use of asbestos in the Third World is either a liar or a fool.” Dr Castleman is well known for his role in the passage of Ban Asbestos America Act 2007.

1 comment:

Karnan Ramamurthy said...

RTI has been used in different sectors and in different sitution by the affected people. But I am very happy to see the outcome of using RTI in terms of Asbestos. My appreciation to Sis Madumita Dutta for using the law to break the nexus of Pro Asbestos Lobby and the Goverment. Good Work

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