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.

Sunday, January 21, 2024

Closure of Asbestos factory in Bihiya, Bhojpur will be a genuine tribute to the memory of Prof. Ishwari Prasad

The legacy of Ishwari Prasad, a noted supporter of the asbestos-free Bihar movement will remain alive

Prof. Ishwari Prasad, a noted economist from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) used to argue against the externalization of health costs due to hazardous industries like the asbestos industry. He said, “We cannot wait for studies and counting of dead bodies for government to act. The global evidence is incontrovertible” at the Conference on Environmental and Occupational Health in the presence of the Chairman, Bihar Legislative Council on December 24, 2012. He signed the Patna Declaration seeking environmental, and occupational health infrastructure and the prohibition on all forms of asbestos-based products amidst anti-asbestos protests by villagers. He was addressing the Collegium Ramazzini Round Table on Environmental and Occupational Diseases as part of the conference.
Prof. Ishwari Prasad left his mortal frame on December 28, 2023, at the age of 89 years in Patna. He is survived by Usha Prasad, his daughter and sons.

In an article in Prabhat Khabar, Prof. Ishwari Prasad had warned the government of Singur like unrest in Bihar if the proposed six asbestos plants at Goraul, Vaishali, Giddha, Koilwar, Bhojpur, Kumarbagh Industrial Area, West Champaran, Pandaul, Madhubani and Bihiya, Bhojpur by Utkal Asbestos Ltd, Nibhi company, Hyderabad Industries, A Infrastructure Ltd and Ramco company respectively are not stopped. His intervention, the struggle of villagers of Vaishali’s Chaksultan Rampur Rajdhari near Panapur in Kanhauli Dhanraj Panchayat in Goraul block, and the street protest by Patna Asbestos Virodhi Nagrik Manch, Left and socialist parties on January 16, 2012 against asbestos based plants had a positive impact.

(PhotoProf Ishwari Prasad, former Professor, JNU, and Dr. Barry Castleman, former consultant, World Health Organisation, and author of Asbestos: Medical and legal aspects)

After the conference, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar met the leaders of the ban asbestos movement led by Khet Bachao Jeevan Bachao Jan Sangharsh Committee (KBJBJC) and the leaders of left and socialist parties at his residence at 1, Anne Marg in Patna in the evening hours of February 13, 2013. Chief Minister promised that he would ‘puncture’ the construction of asbestos factories in the State. Bihar Chief Minister expressed outrage at the granting of a ‘No Objection Certificate’ by the Bihar State Pollution Control Board (BSPCB) to hazardous asbestos-based factories in fertile agricultural lands. He phoned the Chairman, of BSPCB and fixed an appointment for the villagers of Vaishali and expressed his disapproval of asbestos-based factories to him. Villagers met the Chairman, BSPCB. BSPCB’s Chairman spoke to District Magistrate, Vaishali and assured the villagers of the necessary action for canceling the approval given to the asbestos company’s plant. 

Following the Chief Minister’s intervention, Bihar’s State Investment Promotion Board (SIPB) and the State Cabinet disapproved all the asbestos-based industrial projects and rescinded these approvals except the one at Bihiya, Bhojpur where two units of Tamil Nadu-based Ramco company’s plant was already constructed.

The villagers have been protesting against these units which have been found by BSPCB to be operating in violation of specific environmental laws. It has been violating the Supreme Court’s verdict dated 27 January 1995 which paved the way for the adoption of occupational health surveillance under the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Guidance Manual-Asbestos Based Industries by the Union government. Besides these laws and the Court’s order, the company is in violation of the three Schedules under the Occupational Safety, Health and Working Conditions (OSHWC) Code 2020 which refer to hazardous asbestos mineral fiber and asbestosis, an incurable disease. 

BSPCB has a consistent position against these two units of Ramco company’s hazardous asbestos plants under which Vivek Kumar Singh, as Chairman, BSPCB canceled the Non-Objection Certificates (NOCs) given to the hazardous enterprise of Ramco company under Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974, Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981 and Rules 3 (1), Schedule 1 of Hazardous Waste (Management, Handling and Transboundary Movement) Rules under Environment (Protection) Act 1986. These Rules deal with hazardous wastes generated during the production of asbestos or asbestos-containing materials including asbestos-containing residues, discarded asbestos, and dust/particulates from exhaust gas treatment.  


Following the cancellation of NOCs, the company approached the Appellate Authority to appeal against the cancellation. At the time of their appeal, the Appellate Authority happened to be Vivek Kumar Singh himself who as Chairman, of Bihar State Pollution Control Board (BSPCB) had canceled their NOCs. The company used this apparent violation of the principle of natural justice as a ground to seek relief from the Patna High Court. It got the relief. Instead of confirming its order asking the State government to rectify the error by appointing a person as Appellate Authority in compliance with the principle of natural justice and unmindful of the fact that the fact of violation of environmental laws has not been disputed, the High Court allowed the company to operate its plant. But now that the Appellate Authority has been changed as per the Court's directions the error has been rectified and now the High Court has asked the Chairman, BSPCB to act after examining the complaint against it, the matter is before you. 


BSPCB's legal action could not become effective because of the order of a single judge bench of Patna High Court on the limited ground of violation of natural justice. The order of Justice Jyoti Sharan dated 30 March 2017 had directed the Chief Secretary, State of Bihar to rectify the error of the Chairman of the BSPCB and the Appellate Authority being the same person.



It is a fact that the Court’s order did not dispute the finding of the Board about the violation of environmental laws. It did not dispute that asbestos and asbestos-based industries are heavily polluting and have been categorized as R24 in the Red Category. (Source:


Subsequently, a Division Bench of the High Court comprising Justices Ajay Kumar Tripathi and Niku Agrawal passed another order modifying the previous order in the Bihar State Pollution Control Board v. Ramco Industries Ltd. on 30 April 2018 (Letters Patent Appeal No.873 of 2017 In Civil Writ Jurisdiction Case No. 421 of 2017. The order authored by Justice Tripathi reads: "Since Mr. Vivek Kumar Singh no longer happens to be the Chairman of the Bihar State Pollution Control Board, therefore, one of the reasons provided by the learned Single Judge for interfering with the order no longer holds good. It is left open to the new Chairman of Bihar State Pollution Control Board to pass a fresh order by law after hearing the parties." Source: 


The legal action taken by the BSPCB against the asbestos-based factories of Ramco Industries Limited is praiseworthy. As a follow-up of BSPCB’s previous action in this regard, there is a need to address the public health crisis as a consequence of the ongoing unscientific and illegal disposal of hazardous and carcinogenic asbestos waste. The violation of all the general and specific conditions laid down in the NOC given by the BSPCB and the environmental clearance given by the Experts Appraisal Committee of the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change by the company's factories in question is crying for attention. 

 The following news broadcasts have captured the situation in Bihiya, Bhojpur-

1.  Ramco Company: सरकार के साथ साथ दे रही जनता को धोखा, 2. रामकोकंपनीनेबिहियाकोबनायाडस्टबिन, 3.Asbestos के Sale  Use को Bihar मेंअबरोकदीजिए Nitish जी, नहींतोबच्चेऐसेहीसोजातेरहेंगे, and 

4. Buying Asbestos is buying Cancer: Chairman, Bihar Legislative Council 

The following methods in disposing of asbestos waste (dust and fibers) by the company in question have been noticed at the site of both the units of Ramco company:

1. Using excavators the broken sheets are crushed and buried deep inside factory premises. The broken pieces pose a grave threat to the groundwater shared by fertile agricultural land and villagers who use it for drinking purposes. 

2. Since there is no space to bury the asbestos waste broken asbestos products are sold to fictitious or known dealers on ex- factory basis to discard the company's responsibility for disposal. Normally, the destination of such disposal will be in remote locations and buried on fertile lands or used for landfilling and covered by sand permanently. It seems to be a corporate crime but logical from the company's perspective as no one will pay 4 times the cost for transportation for a zero-value material. 

3. The broken ast-based sheets are cut inside the factory into unmarketable sizes like 1-meter length and gifted as CSR activities. The cutting process emits a lot of asbestos dust and fibers harmful to the workers and villagers. 

4. Broken asbestos sheets and wastes during transit handling or from the customer end are brought to the depot at various locations to harden topsoil or landfilling which again poses a threat to groundwater. Cutting broken bigger asbestos sheets also pose a danger as asbestos fibers become airborne. 

5. Wherever cement is handled in bags inside the factory it creates occupational hazards for workers due to asbestos dust particles. This is a threat to villagers as well because the air quality in the area gets polluted. 

6. Ramco Industries Limited has been donating asbestos based roofs to the nearby Mahatin Mai temple and to the parking space of the District Magistrate's office as an exercise in ethical positioning of its brand and as a public relations exercise. The villagers, temple devotees, and the district administration have been taken for a ride. They have acted in complete ignorance of the Board's action against Ramco's factories.

The stance of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar who has declared in the State Assembly that the Bihar Government will not allow construction of carcinogenic asbestos factories in the state on 1st July 2019 is worthy of appreciation.  This announcement and the verdict by the Italian Court vindicates the anti-asbestos struggle by villagers of Bhojpur. 
BSPCB's action about carcinogenic white chrysotile asbestos mineral fiber has been consistent with what is published on the National Health Portal (NHP), Centre for Health Informatics (CHI), National Institute of Health and Family Welfare (NIHFW), Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW), Government of India. The National Health Portal states that “All forms of asbestos (chrysotile, crocidolite, amosite, tremolite, actinolite, and anthophyllite) are in use because of their extraordinary tensile strength, poor heat conduction, and relative resistance to chemical attack. Chemically, asbestos minerals are silicate compounds, meaning they contain atoms of silicon and oxygen in their molecular structure. All forms of asbestos are carcinogenic to humans. Asbestos exposure (including chrysotile) causes cancer of the lung, larynx, and ovaries, and also mesothelioma (a cancer of the pleural and peritoneal linings).” Asbestos exposure is also responsible for other diseases such as asbestosis (fibrosis of the lungs), and plaques, thickening, and effusion in the pleura.”  It observes that “Asbestos exposure occurs through inhalation of fibers in the air in the working environment, ambient air in the vicinity of point sources such as factories handling asbestos, or indoor air in housing and buildings containing friable asbestos materials.”

Against such a backdrop, it is quite distressing that Ramco company's factories in Bihiya managed to get relief from Patna High Court on a procedural ground of violation of natural justice. Now that the procedural error has been rectified, the operation of the two units of Ramco Asbestos Company must be stopped. Its operation is a case of environmental health lawlessness. It has violated every specific and general condition that has been stipulated in the environmental clearance and the No Objection Certificate.

It is necessary to initiate preventive action in the face of tycoons, officials, and ministers facing criminal charges and imprisonment for their act of knowingly subjecting unsuspecting people to killer fibers of asbestos in Europe. The future will be no different for the culprits in India. It is quite clear from the Court’s order that the Chairman, BSPCB has to reissue the “fresh order by the law after hearing the parties”  and reiterate its earlier order against both the asbestos-based units in Bihiya, Bihar. 

(Photo: Prof. Ishwari Prasad with Awadhesh Narayan Singh, Chairman, Bihar Legislative Council, Dr. Barry Castleman, Justice Rekha Kumari, and Advocate Dr Gopal Krishna addressing conference environmental and occupational health in Patna)  

The closure of both units will be a genuine tribute to the memory of Prof. Ishwari Prasad who wished Bihar to be a asbestos-free and asbestos-related disease-free state, worthy of emulation by other states.  

Tuesday, January 16, 2024

"Asbestos concerns " with Indian property in Washington D.C: Dr. S. Jaishankar

Indian foreign minister, Dr. S. Jaishankar informed parliament on February 9, 2023 that "There were asbestos concerns "with regard to  Indian property in Washington D.C. It posed a challenge in preparing it for use as Indian Cultural Centre.  He was replying to a question from Mohammed Nadimul Haque.

Asbestos is a class of magnesium-silicate minerals which are light-weight, chemically inert and heat-resistant. They do not conduct electric currents and possess high flexibility, strength, durability and acoustic properties. At the Headquarters complex, asbestos-containing materials were extensively used, because the buildings were constructed in the early 1950s, when the use of asbestos was widespread. The harmful effects of exposure to asbestos fibres on the respiratory system has been clearly established since the early 1970s. The fibres are so thin that they hang in the air a long time before settling. 
It may be recalled that UN Secretary-General's report had provided an assessment of asbestos-containing materials at UN Headquarters. It had reviewed measures to ensure that such materials did not cause harm to persons working or visiting in the United Nations (document A/54/779). The report covered the Headquarters complex, the UNDC-I and UNDC-II buildings, the former United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) building and leased spaces in other buildings in New York.

Close attention has been paid to the asbestos situation in the UN Headquarters buildings and steps have been taken to make them abestos-free. UN's Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) has recommended that information be provided on asbestos at other United Nations duty stations.

Measures for managing asbestos include continued encapsulation of the existing asbestos, whereby it is not considered a health risk; semi-annual testing of air supply and return sources for asbestos fibres; and the removal of asbestos- containing materials only where the maintenance, alterations, improvement, construction or other activity necessitates its removal, according to the report.

A UN release stated that the UN complies with all standards, codes and regulations issued by the United States Government, New York State and City with regard to inspection, engineering controls, abatement and management of disposal of asbestos-containing materials. Unfortunately, this not enough because despite WHO's recommendation, US is yet to ban all kinds of asbestos unlike 70 countries which have prohibited it. 

The Committee also had before it a report of the ACABQ on the asbestos situation at Headquarters (document A/54/7/Add.12) recommending that the General Assembly take note of the Secretary-General's report and that information be provided on buildings at Geneva, Vienna, Nairobi and the regional commissions.

The ACABQ was informed that all handling of asbestos followed standard procedures and unacceptable levels had not entered the air stream, the report states. The ACABQ was also informed that since measures to manage asbestos started at Headquarters, 30 per cent of the asbestos has been removed from the buildings. It was told that 70 per cent of the asbestos at the UNITAR building had been removed and the remaining 30 per cent remain encapsulated, mainly on the ground floor.

The ACABQ learned that roughly 15 complaints concerning asbestos are received every year. On receiving a complaint from staff, a licensed independent contractor was sent to test the area for the presence of asbestos fibres and the results were made available through the Medical Services Division.
In a  related development, Iraq has informed India in writing that it has banned asbestos like some 70 countries. The countries which have banned it are: 1) Algeria, 2) Czech Republic, 3) Iran, 4) Malta, 5) Serbia, 6) Argentina, 7) Denmark, 8) Iraq, 9) Mauritius, 10) Seychelles, 11) Australia, 12) Djibouti, 13) Ireland, 14) Monaco, 15) Slovakia, 16) Austria, 17) Egypt, 18) Israel, 19) Mozambique, 20) Slovenia, 21) Bahrain, 22) Estonia, 23) Italy,  24) Netherlands, 25) South Africa, 26) Belgium, 27) Finland, 28) Japan, 29) New Caledonia, 30) Spain, 31) Brazil 32) France, 33) Jordan, 34) New Zealand, 35) Sweden, 36) Brunei, 37) Gabon, 38) South Korea, 39)  Norway, 40) Switzerland, 41) Bulgaria, 42) Germany, 43) Kuwait, 44) Oman, 45) Taiwan, 46) Canada, 47) Gibraltar, 48) Latvia, 49) Poland, 50) Turkey, 51) Chile, 52) Greece, 53) Liechtenstein, 54) Portugal, 55) United Kingdom, 56) Colombia, 57) Honduras, 58) Lithuania, 59) Qatar, 60) Uruguay, 61) Croatia, 62) Hungary, 63) Luxembourg, 64) Romania, 65) Ukraine, 66) Cyprus, 67) Iceland, 68) Macedonia and 69) Saudi Arabia which have banned asbestos of all kinds because safe and controlled use of asbestos is not possible.  
Hasn't Indian properties been made asbestos free in these 70 countries which have banned all kinds of carcinogenic asbestos mineral fibers? 
India has banned mining of all kinds of asbestos and trade in asbestos waste (dust and fibers) but it is yet to ban its trade, manufacture and use.

Saturday, January 13, 2024

Jim Fite, the veteran warrior for asbestos-free world will continue to inspire BANI's struggle for justice

Jim Fite is no more. He died at the age of 77 on January 1, 2024 at his home in Baltimore. He was founder and longtime executive director of the White Lung Association (WLA), the first asbestos victims’ group in the US. I met Jim in Ottawa in September 2003 where he gave a presentation on the work of  White Lung Association (WLA), formed in 1979. He was appreciative of the work of the one year old Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI) on the website of WLA. He had published the resolution of BANI which was adopted at its launch in April 2002. He was deeply critical of attempts by insurers and asbestos defendants to dump their asbestos liabilities.

Jim underlined how global asbestos industry continues to deny, defy, degrade and deceive in the face of ongoing death of the victims of incurable but preventable asbestos related diseases. He had referred to asbestos as a weapon of mass destruction ad called for setting up a worldwide fund to compensate victims of these these diseases.

Mourning his death, Barry Castleman, the author of “Asbestos: Medical and Legal Aspects” and a longtime colleague and a close friend of Jim said, “Jim had worked in auto plants and shipyards, and in the late 1970s was involved in getting shipyard union workers medically examined for asbestos disease. This led to wider demands for worker screening and the filing of claims for compensation by affected workers.After the 1982 bankruptcy filing by the largest US asbestos company, Manville, WLA was a constant presence during the proceedings.WLA was sometimes critical of the asbestos plaintiffs’ lawyers, as when several tried to get the courts to set up a scheme whereby these same lawyers would represent future asbestos victim claimants under diminished terms of compensation in the 1990s. Castleman recalled, “In the 1960s, Jim was involved in organizing protest demonstrations against the US war in Vietnam.  He and two other protesters surprised President Johnson at his appearance at a small town in Oklahoma with protest banners in front of the TV cameras, then being chased and narrowly escaping local toughs with their lives.  He was one of US anti-war activists who met with North Vietnamese representatives in Czechoslovakia at the time of the 1968 US presidential election and was impressed at their understanding of things in the US. Jim had extensive involvement in civil rights work in the 1960s and work with the homeless in more recent decades. He was dedicated and courageous in trying to make the world a better place.

Linda Reinstein, the co-founder of the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO) remembered Jim’s tireless work with the WLA which played a crucial role in assisting government agencies to draft regulations protecting the public from asbestos exposure, with a notable emphasis on safety in public schools. His efforts led to transformative changes in national, state, and local laws concerning asbestos inspection, training, and safe disposal. His unwavering commitment to this cause helped to elevate workplace safety standards and has saved countless lives. Jim was given the 2006 ADAO Asbestos Awareness and Prevention Conference with the Tribute of Unity Award for his amazing work. Linda said, “His passing is a profound loss; however, his legacy lives on through the lasting impact of his work and the ongoing efforts of the White Lung Association. His dedication to improving occupational health and safety has forever changed the landscape of asbestos prevention and policy in the United States. Jim will be remembered as a beacon of hope and a relentless advocate for a safer, asbestos-free world.”

Jim’s legacy will pave the way for justice for victims of asbestos related diseases and corporate crimes. His memory will continue to inspire BANI’s work for asbestos free India.

 Gopal Krishna


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