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.

Monday, May 27, 2024

Indian Ministry of Commerce and Industry ignores verdicts of Supreme Court, WTO and WHO's recommendations on Asbestos

On May 21 2024, several newspapers reported the release of the Press Trust of India (PTI) about a notification titled 'Asbestos or Fibre Cement based Products (Quality Control) Order, 2024 ' issued by the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT), Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Government of India on March 6, 2024. Business Standard reported it under the title "Govt rolls out mandatory quality norms for asbestos cement products." The news report reads: "The government has issued mandatory quality norms for asbestos or fibre cement-based products to curb the import of sub-standard goods and boost domestic manufacturing."  

It is apparent that Union Ministry of Commerce and Industry is caught in a time warp. Indian government took a legally inconsistent position before the WTO's Appellate Body in the Chrysotile Asbestos case between European Communities and Canada. The Appelllate Body endorsed and upheld the decision to ban white chrysotile asbestos in April 2001. Government of India has not been able to revise its position in the light of the 24 page long Supreme Court's judgement in Consumer Education Resource Centre v. Union of India (1995).      

The central government has exempted micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) from the provisions of the notification Asbestos or Fibre Cement-based Products (Quality Control) Order, 2024, for specified periods.

The union government exempted micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) from the provisions of the (Quality Control) Order, 2024 for a limited period. The micro units have been asked to comply with the Quality Control Order within 12 months of the issuance of the notification and small units have been given nine months. The ‘mirco’ and ‘small’ enterprises refers to those enterprises which are defined under the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Development Act, 2006. The exemption is also extended to the goods or articles manufactured domestically for the purpose of export.  

In the past, Business Standard published articles entitled Say no to white asbestos: It's time government bans production and use of this carcinogen and Thousands of people staged a "die-in" in Paris over authorities' failure to clear workplaces of asbestos, which can cause fatal respiratory diseases after long exposure. It also published an op-ed piece entitled Asbestos: Breathtaking Negligence on October 22, 2002 which pointed out that the Chrysotile Asbestos Cement Products Manufacturers' Association (CACPMA), an association of large manufacturers insist asbestos is not a health hazard despite growing global evidence to the contrary. It referred to the September 2, 2002 issue of India Today which carried an advertorial from the CACPMA to inform the public that white chrysotile asbestos does not cause cancer. The op-piece underlined that this is far from the truth. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has categorically said, "there is practically no safe level of exposure or use of asbestos against cancer". It is apparent that CACPMA and non-editorial team of the newspaper prevailed upon Business Standard to remove the op-ed piece from its website.    

It reported about the recall of approximately 23,000 Great Wall and Chery motor vehicles with engine and exhaust gaskets containing asbestos which was being monitored by Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC). ACCC stated that the asbestos is bound into gaskets in the engine and exhaust system and does not present any risk to consumers during use of the vehicle. However, consumers should not perform do-it-yourself maintenance that might disturb these gaskets. 
It reported about evacuation from the press gallery and nearby rooms of US Senate because of possible asbestos exposure and the investigation in to the possible exposure after workers discovered a broken air duct above the press gallery. The Capitol's House side was temporarily closed because of a "potential release" during asbestos abatement work. 
It also reported about Indonesia's asbestos 'time bomb'.

The Economic Times also reported about the Quality Control Order, 2024.  Earlier, it reported a news story entitled "Asbestos mining: National Green Tribunal raps MoEF for vague response". It reported about the US asbestosis cases, wherein Dow Chmemicals Company is defending or settling the suits on behalf of Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) as well as UCC’s subsidiary Amchem Products Limited, which UCC took over in 1977. It also reported that "Even as environmental protection agencies across the world are pushing for a complete ban on usage of asbestos in auto parts that put millions of auto technicians, repair mechanics and commuters at risk of contracting fatal diseases, India's environment ministry has claimed to be unaware of the problem in absence of any specific study on the issue." It pointed out that the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) in India had spoken about hazards of asbestos use in its report in 2008. Its observation got a mention in the environment ministry's environmental impact assessment (EIA) guidance manual on asbestos based industries in 2010. But, it does not appear to get a traction beyond controlling emission limits in organised industries. Asked how does the ministry monitor the use of asbestos in the country, the ministry said, "Implementation of emission limits of asbestos fibres from the stack, notified under the provisions of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, for industries uses asbestos is carried out by the concerned State Pollution Control Boards".
Khabar Infra reported "India tweak norms to boost asbestos production; 70 countries ban it". In the past, it has published an article entitled "J&J’s decision may curb talcum powder, asbestos items’ production".
Even as environmental protection agencies across the world are pushing for a complete ban on usage of asbestos in auto parts that put millions of auto technicians, repair mechanics and commuters at risk of contracting fatal diseases, India's environment ministry has claimed to be unaware of the problem in absence of any specific study on the issue.

the US asbestosis cases, Dow is defending or settling the suits on behalf of Union Carbide as well as Carbide’s subsidiary Amchem Products Limited, which Carbide took over in 1977.

Notably, prior to its reporting, the Quality Control Order was filed in the National Green Tribunal by India's Asbestos Fiber Cement Product Manufacturers Association, which is registered as a "non-profit" society. The submission of the "non-profit" society refers to the 24 page long Supreme Court's judgement in Consumer Education Resource Centre v. Union of India but omits significant part of the directions with regard to ILO resolution concerning Asbestos and the compensation to the certified victims in order to mislead the National Green Tribunal. This dishonest and insincere approach of the asbestos companies and DGFASLI demonstrates "their pre-existing ideological commitment to support corporate interests over worker or community interests."  The Supreme Court's bench of Justices K Ramaswamy, Chief Justice A.M. Ahmadi and M.M. Punchhi had given given specific directions. It reads: “All the industries are directed 

(1) To maintain and keep maintaining the health record of every worker up to a minimum period of 40 years from the beginning of the employment or 15 years after retirement or cessation of the employment whichever is later;

(2) The Membrane Filter test, to detect asbestos fibre should be adopted by all the factories or establishments at par with the Metalliferrous Mines Regulations, 1961; and Vienna Convention and Rules issued thereunder;

(3)  All the factories whether covered by the Employees State Insurance Act or Workmen's Compensation Act or otherwise are directed to compulsorily insure health coverage to every worker;

(4) The Union and the State Governments are directed to review the standards of permissible exposure limit value of fibre/cc in tune with the international standards reducing the permissible content as prayed in the writ petition referred to at the beginning. The review shall be continued after every 10 yews and also as an when the I.L.O. gives directions in this behalf consistent with its recommendations or any Conventions;

(5) The Union and all the State Governments are directed to consider inclusion of such of those small scale factory or factories or industries to protect health hazards of the worker engaged in the manufacture of asbestos or its ancillary produce;

(6) The appropriate Inspector of Factories in particular of the State of Gujarat, is directed to send all the workers, examined by the concerned ESI hospital, for re-examination by the National Institute of Occupational Health to detect whether all or any of them are suffering from asbestosis. In case of the positive Ending that all or any of them ant suffering from the occupational health hazards, each such worker shall be entitled to compensation in a sum of rupees one lakh payable by the concerned factory or industry or establishment within a period of three months from the date of certification by the National Institute of Occupational Health." This land mark judgement recognized right to health as part of the fundamental right to life.

The members of the India's Asbestos Fiber Cement Product Manufacturers Association have not been complying with these directions of the Supreme Court. They are trying to mislead the Tribunal by withholding the full text of the landmark judgement of the Supreme Court which has recognised right to health as part of fundamental right to health.

The word "Asbestos" has become so notorious that Asbestos Cement Products Manufacturers Association has changed its name to hide the word "Asbestos". Now it calls itself "Fiber Cement Product Manufacturers Association"! But in their naked lust for profit they will have present and future generations of Indians and residents in India including the foreign embassies and foreign visitors whose countries have banned all kinds of asbestos, that foreign asbestos is “safe”. Notably, the government of India has banned mining of all kinds of asbestos due to its harmful effect on human health. The Asbestos Fiber Cement Product Manufacturers Association will have media, legislatures and courts and residents of India believe that Indian asbestos is unsafe, hazardous, poisonous and harmful but asbestos from Russia, Brazil, Kazakhstan and China is safe, non-hazardous, non-poisonous and harm free.

BANI’s work is dedicated to the implementation of the Court’s directions and the recommendations of ILO and WHO to prevent preventable diseases and preventable deaths by prevention of asbestos trade, manufacture and use. It demands revision of the provisions of the Factories Act, 1948 which declare manufacture, handling and processing of Asbestos and its products as Hazardous Process but do not impose ban on manufacture, handling and processing of asbestos and asbestos based products. It seeks amendment in the Schedule XIV, Section 87 of the Factories Act which deals Dangerous Operation of “Handling and Processing of Asbestos, Manufacture of any Article or Substance of Asbestos and any other Process of Manufacture or otherwise in which Asbestos is used in any Form’ to ensure that India supports listing of chrysotile asbestos under list of hazardous substances as per UN’s Rotterdam Convention.

BANI has  demanded cancellation of all the environmental clearances and No Objection Certificates given to asbestos based factories and ban on all asbestos based products. It seeks legal and medical relief for the victims of incurable asbestos related diseases caused by primary and secondary exposure. It wants asbestos free schools and hospitals, asbestos free powder, asbestos free water supply pipes and asbestos free vehicles. It demands decontamination of all the public and private buildings including foreign embassies which are ridden with asbestos fibers. The decision making with regard to asbestos must be shifted from the commerce ministry, a promoter of trade in asbestos, to the health ministry, a regulator of health hazards. The latter must be empowered to ensure that it gives precedence to public health.

BANI joined the protest of villagers in Bihar and Odisha against asbestos based factories. It led to stoppage of five factories in Bihar and one in Odisha. Bihar Chief Minister assured the State Assembly on July 1, 2019 that such plants will not be allowed in the State. It is significant that despite the assurance two units of asbestos based factories of Chennai based Ramcoe Industries Ltd are operating in Bihiya, Bhojpur, Bihar with environmental clearance and NOC for one unit. It is noteworthy that it is admitted that Fibre Reinforced Cement Products Subcommittee for BIS standards includes asbestos companies like Ramco Industries Ltd, Hyderabad Industries Ltd, Eternit Everest Industries Ltd.,  Kalani Asbestos Cement Pvt Ltd. and Shri Digvijay Cement Co Ltd. in the affidavit filed by Asbestos "Fiber Cement Product Manufacturers Association" before the Principal Bench of the National Green Tribunal. It is a classic case of culprits of environmental and public health crimes setting up norms and standards for their own regulation! 


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