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.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Environmentalists petition Nitish to stop asbestos factory

Environmentalists petition Nitish to stop asbestos factory

Shoumojit Banerjee

Muzaffarpur (Bihar): An uneasy calm has descended over the village of Bishnupur-Chainpur, currently a hotbed of passionate agitation against a proposed Rs.31-crore asbestos factory to be set up by the Kolkata-based Balmukund Cement and Roofing Ltd (BCRL).

As the impasse between the village residents and the company management continues, environmentalists and asbestos experts over the world are petitioning Chief Minister Nitish Kumar to firmly consign the “killer dust” jinn back into the bottle.

On Wednesday, noted Environmental Consultant and asbestos hazard expert Dr. Barry Castleman addressed letters to Mr. Kumar and Union Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh (copies of which are with The Hindu) drawing their attention to the community resistance in Muzaffarpur over the proposed plant and the repressive measures initiated by the district authorities.

As reported on Tuesday, villagers have been battling the district administration and the BCRL management since July over alleged misinformation on the perceived hazardous fallouts of the proposed Chrysotile asbestos plant in Chainpur.

In his letter to Mr. Kumar, Dr. Castleman, whose testimony contributed significantly to the passage of the Ban Asbestos in America Act of 2007, notes that “there is no such thing as an asbestos plant that does not endanger the surrounding community with pollution from its manufacturing process, its shipments of raw material and products, waste dumps, and the contamination of workers' clothes worn home after work.” The only question in this case was the extent of the peril.

Stating that “profitability” appeared to be the BCRL's raison d'etre in the asbestos business, he warned of the extant dangers in setting up the factory amidst a residential area populated with schools and healthcare centres.

“None of the owners of the planned factory have indicated that they would be willing to move their families into town and buy a home close and downwind from the planned factory,” he mentioned in his letter to Mr. Kumar.

Author of one of the most comprehensive studies on the litigation titled “Asbestos: Medical and Legal Aspects,” Dr. Castleman has questioned the company's assertion that the proposed asbestos-cement plant in Bihar would be operating with “worker exposures at no more than 0.5 asbestos fibers/cc of air.” That was exactly what the “US asbestos industry claimed to be able to do with technology applied after 15 years of regulation, in the mid-1980s, before they all went out of business.”

Meanwhile, the villagers of Bishnupur-Chainpur have given a 24-page memorandum to the Muzaffarpur district administration listing the causes for their opposition to the proposed plant, highlighting glaring contraventions in the BCRL's EIA report and registering their protest against the June 28 public hearing, which they allege was a sham.

“No violations”

However, when contacted, BCRL director N.K. Kanodia refuted all allegations, stating that there were no violations in the EIA report and that all the Terms of Reference (TORs) as laid down by the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) were adhered to. Speaking to The Hindu, he said that the 17.8-acre site acquired for the proposed plant was “entirely barren” and “there were no schools and health centres in the vicinity of the upcoming factory.”

The MoEF had given Environmental Clearance to the BCRL in October this year.

On the allegations that the company management let loose armed men to break a demonstration, which resulted in six villagers suffering severe injuries in a firing, Mr. Kanodia said the firing was an act of self-defence on the part of the management. The instigators were criminals, against whom FIRs had been lodged by the district administration.

“This campaign is false propaganda to blackmail the company management. Banners like Socialist Unity Centre of India (SUCI) are behind this act of disruption. We have met Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Modi and things are being sorted out,” he said.

Though there is a temporary truce between the villagers and the district administration after the December 13 firing incident, residents are seething over the arrest of two of the leaders of the agitation.

Dec 30, 2010

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