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.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Asbestos-related diseases give tough time to Gujaratis

Ahmedabad: “It has been a disgusting life,” says Manga N Patel, sitting on the lone bench at a tea stall in Parshavnath Nagar locality of Chandkheda in Ahmedabad. With tears rolling down his face, Patel walks away saying he is in no mood to talk further. Similar has been the response of scores of other people working in factories which use asbestos.

The case in question is a recently published dossier titled 'India's Asbestos Time Bomb' by the renowned International Ban Asbestos Secretariat (IBAS) that has termed Gujarat as the 'Asbestos Hot Spot.'

The dossier, which was circulated at the recently concluded fourth meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP-4) of the UN's Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent (PIC) Procedure in Rome, lists the 'Golden Corridor' of Gujarat as the major hub for asbestos use.

The corridor stretching from Mehsana in north to Vapi in south, housing over 31,000 working factories, has a routine occupational exposure to asbestos in power generation, ship-breaking, cement production, insulation, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, friction materials and safety equipment factories.

The dossier mentions power generation industries like the Ahmedabad electricity corporation (now known as Torrent Power) as widely using asbestos for boilers and furnaces. Although there are cases like Patel, a former boiler room operator, being paid Rs 1.60 lakh by the company as the out-of-court settlement amount, cases of compensation for the Asbestos Related Disease (ARD) victims are far and few between.

Also, due to the widespread availability of limestone in Gujarat, there are a lot many industries manufacturing asbestos cement sheets. The IBAS names Shree Digvijay Cement Company Limited, Ahmedabad as the main culprit in this regard. Up till now, the Employee State Insurance Corporation (ESIC) has compensated eight individuals for ADR. All of them were workers of the Digvijay Cement.

Ship-breaking is another source of asbestos exposure to workers, most famous being the site at Alang near Bhavnagar. The controversy surrounding Clemenceau and Blue Lady, carrying asbestos waste and radioactive materials, is still fresh in the public memory.

‘ARDs claim more lives than any other work-related illness’

According to the IBAS, India employs nearly one lakh workers in both organised and unorganised sectors of the asbestos industry, with majority of them in Gujarat. The cumulative asbestos consumption in India between 1960 and 2008 is estimated to exceed the seven-million-tonne mark. It is also estimated that ADRs like malignant mesothelioma, asbestos-related lung cancer and asbestosis kill more people than any other work-related illness. Although blue and brown asbestos are banned, white asbestos continues to be used in India. But what is most shocking is the stance taken by the Indian Government along with Canada and Russia at COP-4, by vetoing the inclusion of chrysotile on the PIC list. The inclusion would have made it mandatory for the exporters to provide information to the importing countries on the hazards posed by the chemicals to both the human health and environment.

Supreme Court’s January 1995 ruling
The Supreme Court, in response to a public interest litigation filed by the Consumer Education and Research Centre, passed an order on January 21, 1995, which included:

* Maintenance of health records for 40 years since employed or 15 years after leaving employment (in the asbestos industry)
* National Institute of Occupational Hazard should decide on diagnoses in case of disputes
* Rs 1 lakh compensation to be paid to the asbestos-related disease victims
* Special monitoring of small-scale asbestos manufacturing units
* Regular reviews of permissible limits for asbestosSetting up membrane filter test facilities for measuring dust levels

— (With inputs from Parimal Dabhi)

Gaurav Sharma
Nov 13, 2008

Indian Express

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