With Bihar State Pollution Control Board (BSPCB) cancelling the No Objection Certificate given to the asbestos factory unit of Tamil Nadu based Nibhi Industries Pvt Ltd, Koelwar block, Bhojpur, Bihar is all set to be free of asbestos based factories. Sources have revealed that loans raised in the name of setting up the hazardous factory in question have been diverted to set up a unit Sri Lanka. The veracity of such claims merit separate probe by concerned agencies.
Pollution Control Board's action is consistent with the ban in more than 70 countries. These countries have banned production, use, manufacture and trade of the hazardous mineral fiber, asbestos. These countries include: Nepal, Algeria, Czech Republic, Iceland, Malta, Seychelles, Argentina, Denmark, Ireland, Mozambique, Slovakia, Australia, Egypt, Israel, Netherlands, Slovenia, Austria, Estonia, Italy, New Caledonia, South Africa, Bahrain, Finland, Japan, Norway, Spain, Belgium, France, Jordan, Oman, Sweden, Brunei, Gabon, South Korea, Poland, Switzerland, Bulgaria, Germany, Kuwait, Portugal, Turkey, Chile, Greece, Latvia, Qatar, United Kingdom, Croatia, Honduras, Lithuania, Romania, Uruguay, Cyprus, Hungary, Luxembourg and Saudi Arabia.
In such a backdrop, there is a logical compulsion based on scientific and medical evidence including resolutions of WHO and ILO to ban asbestos of all kinds including white chrysotile asbestos to save life and health of Indians.
WHO’s views are available at: http://www.who.int/ipcs/assessment/public_health/asbestos/en/
Due to incessant efforts of Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI) and ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA) along with Parwaywarn Bachao Jeewan Bachao Sangharsh Samiti and Parywawarn Swasthya Suraksha Samiti pointing out non-compliance with environmental laws, BSPCB has revoked its emission-consent order and discharge consent order which was valid till 31st March, 2018. Chairman, BSPCB has ordered, the company in question, Tamil Nadu based Nibhi Industries Pvt Ltd. to “close your industrial unit with immediate effect, failing which complaints shall be filed u/ss. 44 of the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 and 37 of the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981.” This land allotment was considered to be part of the scam that led to an inquiry into allotments by Bihar Industrial Area Development Authority (BIADA).
In Bhojpur's Giddha village in Koilwar block, the 100,000 MT Capacity Asbestos Fibre Cement Corrugated Sheet, Flat Sheet, Accessories and Light Weight Fly Ash Block Plant acquired 15 acres. The plant site is located adjacent to Ara-Koilwar road.
When it was repeatedly pointed out the violations of the general and specific conditions given the environmental clearance and NOC by Ramco Industries, BSPCB’s Chairman took its cognizance. He has issued an order saying, “I therefore, have no option but to treat this unit as a non-compliant industry".
Questions have been raised against these plants in Bihar Vidhan Sabha and Vidhan Parishad. Abdul Bari Siddiqui, the leader of opposition has raised the issue of hazardous asbestos factories in Vidhan Sabha.
In another significant observation Awadhesh Narain Singh Chairperson, Bihar Legislative Council (BLC) and former labour minister said, “buying asbestos is akin to buying cancer” and “pain of asbestos related diseases is worse than the pain of unemployment.” The speech of Chairman, BLC is available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B9TbemRUkYM
Given the fact that NOC of all the asbestos based factories been cancelled by BSPCB, State Government should ask Nibhi to decontaminate the site of it's factory in Giddha, Koelwar, Bhojpur pursuant to it's cancellation order.
In India, asbestos mining is technically banned and trade in asbestos waste (dust and fibers) is also banned but the process of banning trade, manufacturing and use of white asbestos is held up due to lobbying at the behest of asbestos producing countries.
Government’s apathy towards victims of primary and secondary exposure of killer asbestos mineral fibers shows that in the conflict between naked lust for profit and public health, it is choosing to be complicit with the former. The legacy of callousness towards victims of asbestos related diseases refuses to learn lessons from the epidemic of such diseases world over due to past usage of asbestos. Asbestos related diseases have a long incubation period ranging from 5-50 years.
In a message to BANI, Prof. Colin L. Soskolne, University of Alberta, Canada Adjunct Professor, Faculty of Health, University of Canberra, Australia Fellow, American College of Epidemiology and Fellow, Collegium Ramazzini pointed out that asbestos related diseases have a long incubation period ranging from "5 - 50" years" which has serious implications.
Union Environment Ministry’s Vision Statement on Environment and Human Health reads, "Alternatives to asbestos may be used to the extent possible and use of asbestos may be phased out" but the Experts Appraisal Committee of this very ministry continues to give environmental clearance to such hazardous industries. This is notwithstanding the fact that "The Government of India is considering the ban on use of chrysotile asbestos in India to protect workers and the general population against primary and secondary exposure," as announced in a concept paper by the Ministry of Labour. Both these documents are available on central government’s website but struggle to make Indians safe from deadly exposure of asbestos fibers continues in the face of misinformation campaign of the killer industry.
Health being a State subject under the Constitution, Bihar ought to take a lead by banning asbestos procurement and use in the state to pave the way for other state governments and the central government to follow.
Responding to anti-asbestos struggle Bihar Chief Minister assured the state assembly in July 2019 that he will puncture this industry and will not allow setting up of such toxic factories in the state but the task of decontaminating asbestos laden factory site like one in Giddha, building, preparing a register of victims of asbestos related diseases, creating an inventory of asbestos based products and announcing a compensation fund for victims of fatal diseases remains to be undertaken. It has reliably been learnt that the preliminary work of identifying victims have begun in a well known cancer hospital I'm Patna.
Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI) has been pursuing the campaign for a nation-wide for more than a decade to save present and future generation from asbestos related diseases. It's effort is aimed at environmental and occupational health justice in compliance with Supreme Court's verdict dated, 27 January, 1995 in CERC v Union of India.