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.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Bihar puts on hold new asbestos projects

Nitish calls for balanced view on proposed plant in Chainpur

Agitators allege misinformation on perceived hazardous fallouts of proposed plant

“17.8 acres of land acquired to set up the factory is cultivable, fertile”

Patna: Taking note of the mounting public uproar against the proposed asbestos factory at Bishnupur-Chainpur village in Muzaffarpur district, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar on Monday said “there was no ban on setting up asbestos factories in India.”

Mr. Kumar, however, said that in view of the opposition to the factory in Chainpur, further proposals submitted by the State Investment Promotion Board (SIPB) had been withheld by the government.

Speaking to journalists after the Chief Minister's ‘Janata Durbar,' Mr. Kumar said it was the SIPB which usually reviewed such projects and the government's role was limited to “repudiating the rebate granted to such industries, if popular agitation so demanded.”

Villagers in arms

Residents of the village have been up in arms against the Rs. 31-crore asbestos factory proposed to be set up by the Kolkata-based Balmukund Cement and Roofing Ltd (BCRL) since July last year. Several sit-ins were staged by residents and members of the left parties, notably those from the Socialist Unity Centre of India (SUCI).

The agitators, including “ban asbestos” activists, have been sparring with the district administration and the BCRL management over alleged violations as per the Environmental Impact Assessment notification, 2006 and alleged misinformation on the perceived hazardous fallout of the proposed chrysotile asbestos plant in Chainpur.

At the core of the agitation, however, is the BCRL land acquisition process which the villagers have maintained was completely “illegitimate.”

‘Fertile land'

Villagers have said that the 17.8 acres acquired by BCRL to set up its factory was “cultivable, fertile land,” with three primary schools and health centres around it.

“In case there is an issue of land dispute, the matter will certainly be looked into. Meanwhile, there needs to be a debate on the matter,” Mr. Kumar said, calling upon the agitators to take a balanced view.

The Chainpur agitation has been marred by two incidents of firing allegedly ordered by the district police and the company management to break protests.

The Chief Minister however said that the deputed police force had been called back and further police action had been curtailed.

Meanwhile, activists are exhorting Mr. Kumar to ban the “killer dust.”

“While the Centre has been phasing out the use of asbestos in a piecemeal manner, Bihar, which presently has a progressive government led by Nitish Kumar, should have set a precedent in this case by imposing a total ban,” Gopal Krishna, Convener of the Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI) told The Hindu.

“The issue at stake here is the health of a State, and not of industry. So, what is stopping it from setting a precedent instead of waiting for the Centre to set one,” he said, citing Kerala's initiative in banning endosulfan.

Four more asbestos plants were proposed in other districts, including Bhojpur and Vaishali.

Earlier, environmentalists such as Dr. Barry Castleman too had petitioned Mr. Kumar and Union Minister of Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh, drawing their attention to the community resistance in Muzaffarpur to the proposed plant, while alerting them about the hazardous effects of chrysotile (white asbestos).

Shoumojit Banerjee
The Hindu

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