Note: On December 22, 2020 Chief Minister communicated that he has forwarded the letter regarding death of a worker in the asbestos based unit of Chennai based Ramco Industries Limited in Bihiya, Bhojpur to Principal Secretary, Labour, Government of Bihar. Mihir Kumar Singh is the Principal Secretary of the Department of Labour.
Subject- Yet another death of a worker and violation of environmental laws by the two asbestos based units of Chennai based Ramco Industries Limited in Bihiya, Bhojpur
This is to draw your immediate attention towards the cruel death of yet another worker late Shri Shivji Yadav, s/o late Shri Dhurkhel Yadav in the asbestos based factory units of Chennai based Ramco Industries Limited in Bihiya, Bhojpur on the night of 19 December, 2020. The worker is a resident of Khadra village, Dawa Panchayat under Jagdishpur police station. The deceased worker is survived by his wife, 6 daughters and 2 sons. Earlier, one worker named Shri Barak Yadav too died while working in this factory. Bihar Human Rights Commission was seized with the latter case. The news report regarding the former is attached.
I submit that First Schedule of Occupational Safety, Health & Working Conditions Code, 2020 refers to Industries involving hazardous processes including manufacture, handling & processing of Asbestos and ts products. Its Third Schedule lists incurable Asbestosis as a Notifiable Disease. Besides the villagers in the vicinity of Ramco's factories, all the workers face the threat of such health hazards and accidents. This Code has to be read along with the verdict of Hon'ble Supreme Court dated 27 January, 1995 in Consumer Education Research Centre v Union of India for effective implementation.
I appreciate the legal action taken by the Bihar State Pollution Control Board (BSPCB) against the two units of asbestos based factories of Ramco Industries Limited located at Bihiya, Bhojpur pursuant to your instructions to the Board in response to villagers' petition to you against such hazardous factories.
As a follow up of your previous action in this regard, I wish to draw your urgent attention towards the public health crisis as a consequence of ongoing unscientific and illegal disposal of hazardous and carcinogenic asbestos (dust & fibers) and broken asbestos based roofs by Chennai based Ramco Industries Limited in Bihiya, Bhojpuri, Bihar. It has endangered the human life and environmental health of Bihiya and the villages in the area besides the workers employed there. The picture is attached.
I am aware that the Board's legal action could not become effective because of the order of a single judge bench of Hon'ble 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 Chairman of the BSPCB and thev Appellate Authority happened to be Shri Vivek Kumar Singh. Source: https://indiankanoon.org/doc/6
The fact remains this order too did not dispute the finding of the Board with regard to violation of the environmental laws. It did not dispute that as asbestos and asbestos based industries are heavily polluting and have been categorised as R24 in the Red Category (http://bspcb.bih.nic.in/Categ
Subsequently, a division bench of the Hon'ble High Court comprising Justices Ajay Kumar Tripathi and Niku Agrawal passed another order modifying the previous order in The Bihar State Pollution Control Board & others Vs M/S 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 in accordance with law after hearing the parties." Source: https://indiankanoon.org/doc/8
In such a backdrop, I wish to draw your attention again towards the violation of all the general and specific conditions laid down in the NOC given by the Bihar State Pollution Control Board 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.
I wish to draw your attention towards a news broadcast by a news channel titled -
In such a context, I submit that I have learnt the following methods in disposing of asbestos waste (dust and fibers) by the company in question:
1. Using excavators the broken sheets are crushed and buried deep inside factory premises. The broken pieces pose a grave threat to the ground water shared by fertile agriculture land and villagers who use it for drinking purpose.
2. Since there is no space to bury the asbestos waste and broken asbestos products are sold to fictitious or known dealers on ex- factory basis to discard company's responsibility for disposal. Normally, the destination of duch disposal will be in remote locations and buried on fertile lands or used for land filling and covered by sand permanently. It seems to be a corporate crime but logical from 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 factory into unmarketable sizes like 1 meter length and gifted as CSR activities. The cutting process emits lot of asbestos dust and fibers harmful for the workers and villagers.
4. Broken asbestos sheets and wastes during transit handling or from customer end are brought to depot at various locations to harden top soil or land filling which again poses a threat to ground water. Cutting broken bigger asbestos sheets also pose danger as asbestos fibers become air borne.
5. Wherever cement is handled in bags inside factory it creates occupational hazard 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 Mahthin Mai temple and to the parking space of the District Magistrate's office as an exercise in ethical positioning of it's bran and as a public relations exercise. Villagers, temple devotees and the district administration has been taken for a ride. They have acted in complete ignorance of Board's action against Ramco's factories.
In view of the above, I wish to request you to probe the health status of the communities linked to the factory and who reside in proximity of the two units of asbestos factories in Bihiya, Bhojpur run by Ramco Industries Limited besides the workers. Your prompt action will safeguard the environmental health of present and future residents of Bhojpur in particular and all the residents of Bihar in general by imposing immediate ban on use of asbestos based products of all kinds in State.
I appreciate for stance declaring in the State Assembly that Bihar Government will not allow construction of carcinogenic asbestos factories in the state on 1st July, 2019. This announcement is a vindication of the anti-asbestos struggle by villagers of Muzaffarpur, Vaishali and Bhojpur.
I submit that the death toll of children in Muzaffarpur has revealed that asbestos cement sheets are quite unhealthy building materials which lead to morbidity and mortality by contributing to the deterioration of their health.
I submit that Board's action with regard to carcinogenic white chrysotile asbestos mineral fiber has been consistent with what is published on 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,s 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. Exposure to asbestos (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 “Exposure to asbestos occurs through inhalation of fibers in 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.”
I wish to draw your urgent attention towards the order of Kerala Human Rights Commission (KHRC) that has ruled that exposing Indians to asbestos is a human rights violation. This paves the way for the eventual complete ban on asbestos and its products. On January 31, 2009, the KHRC ruled that the government should take steps to phase out asbestos roofing from all schools in the state. Bihar State Pollution Control Board can act of this recommendation as well.
I submit that so far Hon'ble Supreme Court’s order of 27 January, 1995 in Writ Petition (Civil) No. 206 of 1986 cannot be ignored without endangering residents of Bihar. Hon'ble Court observed: “The development of the carcinogenic risk due to asbestos or any other carcinogenic agent, does not require a continuous exposure. The cancer risk does not cease when the exposure to the carcinogenic agent ceases, but rather the individual carries the increased risk for the remaining years of life. The exposure to asbestos and the resultant long tragic chain of adverse medical, legal and societal consequences, remains the legal and social responsibility of the employer or the producer not to endanger the workmen or the community of the society. He is not absolved of the inherent responsibility to the exposed workmen or the society at large.”
I submit the state government was supposed to incorporate specific directions of the Court with regard to fresh ILO Resolution of June 14, 2006 introducing a ban on all mining, manufacture, recycling and use of all forms of asbestos besides WHO‟s resolution of 2005 seeking elimination of future use of asbestos but it has been ignored so far.
I wish to also draw your attention towards what Government of India’s National Health Portal states: “The burden of asbestos-related diseases is still rising, even in countries that banned the use of asbestos in the early 1990s. Because of the long latency periods attached to the asbestos related diseases, stopping the use of asbestos now will result in a decrease in the number of asbestos-related deaths only after a number of decades. There is no safe use of asbestos and no safe limits set by WHO, ILO (International labour organization)” . It discloses that “The prevalence of asbestosis in four cement factories (Ahmadabad, Hyderabad, Coimbatore and Mumbai) varied from 3% to 5%” and “In asbestos textile industry prevalence of asbestosis was 9% in workers having less than 10 years exposure, in contrast to the reported average duration of over 20 years” (National Health Portal, Government of India).
I submit that in a reply to the Parliament, Union Minister of Health and Family welfare stated that “The Ministry of Mines has informed that the Grant of fresh mining leases and renewal of existing mining leases for Asbestos are presently banned in the country on Health Grounds” (Union Ministry of Health and Family welfare, 2014). He also shared the findings of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), Union Ministry of Health and Family welfare which has “informed that major health hazards of asbestos include cancer of lung, mesothelioma of pleura and peritoneum and specific fibrous disease of lung known as asbestosis. All types of asbestos fibers are responsible for human mortality and morbidity….” This has been shared by the Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare in a written reply to the Parliament and released by Press Information Bureau, Government of India. This reply corroborates your observation in the State Assembly.
It has violated every specific and general condition which has been stipulated in the environmental clearance and the No Objection Certificate. It may also be noted that when a worker died in this factory, his family was given a compensation of Rs 5, 000. The factory seemed to have the patronage of Bhojpur administration by donating asbestos roofs to it for its parking. This situation creates a compelling logic for medical investigation of the environmental health status of the village and temple communities living in the vicinity of these units and the workers of these two factories owned by the same company. The probe can reveal the extent of asbestos related diseases in this area because of environmental exposure.
Let me take the opportunity to mention the the fact that all asbestos based products have a life-span, it is natural that all asbestos based products are potential asbestos wastes. This state of sad affairs is crying for attention. At present Indian railways is removing asbestos cement roofs from all the railway stations and platforms in Bihar like elsewhere but it is not being disposed of in a scientific and safe manner.
In view of the above, I submit that the Board must be asked to reiterate its order on immediate closure of Ramco's hazardous factories, to create a Master Plan for decontaminating all asbestos laden government buildings including legislative and judicial buildings and discontinue public procurement of asbestos based products including asbestos cement pipes for water supply in Bihar. It s necessary to initiate preventive action in order to protect present and future generations of Bihar from the silent killer mineral fibers of asbestos which are akin to a ticking time bomb.
I will be glad to share more relevant information in this regard.
Thanking you in anticipation.
Gopal Krishna, LL.M