Patna,(BiharTimes): The Chairman of Bihar Legislative Council, Awadesh Narain Singh, expressed grave concern over the lack of environmental and occupational infrastructure in the face of environmental exposures that present and future generations face. He favoured phasing of hazardous factories in public interest if they cause incurable but preventable diseases. He admitted the dangers of asbestos exposures.
Inaugurating the Conference on Environmental and Occupational Health, he said, “buying asbestos is buying akin to buying cancer. I will get asbestos removed from my residence.”
He said that struggle against asbestos factories in Vaishali and Bhojpur is a learning experience and announced that he would convene an environmental conference in the auditorium of the Bihar Legislative Council after January 25.
Former consultant of World Health Organisation (WHO) and World Bank, Dr Barry Castleman disclosed why asbestos-related lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis resulting from occupational exposures “can only be prevented by adopting alternatives of asbestos. It is estimated that several thousands of deaths can be attributed annually to exposure to asbestos in the living environment.” Dr Castleman is a fellow Collegium Ramazzini, USA and author, Medical & Legal Aspects of Asbestos. He said, “asbestos companies are indulging in corporate crimes”.
In his observation, Prof. Qamar Rahman, Visiting Professor, Rostock University Germany, formerly with Institute of Toxicological Research Centre, Lucknow stated that it is impossible to use asbestos based products safely. Human biology is the same everywhere. If it is carcinogenic for over 50 countries, how Indians be deemed immune from it.
Justice (Retd) Rekha Kumari of Patna High Court contended that companies which wilfully expose human beings to cancer causing fibres of asbestos must be made criminally liable because right to health is part of right to life.
Prof Ishwari Prasad, former Professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) argued against the externalization of health costs due to hazardous industries like asbestos industry. We can not wait for studies and counting of dead bodies for government to act. The global evidence is incontrovertible.
Dr Satyajit Singh, Senior Urologist, Dr Ruban Group of Hospitals & Vice-President, Indian Doctors for Peace and Development pledged support from ban asbestos movement. He had physically visited anti-asbestos struggles.
Prof N K Chaudhary, Department of Economics, Patna University said that there is sufficient ground to inspire action and to stop hazardous factories in Vaishali. If it is not stopped it reveals the complicity of the head of the State.
Governments appear to be under the influence of vested interests else there is no reason why lung related diseases should not be prevented by prohibiting asbestos industry, Dr P N P Pal, ex-President Indian Medical Association, Bihar Chapter.
Dr Jitendra Kumar Singh, Director, Mahavir Cancer Sansthan and Research Centre expressed concerned about the unattended health impacts from environmental exposures.
Trade unions of the left parties have consistently joined hands with the villagers in their struggle against hazardous asbestos factories. Participants include trade union leaders like Chakradhar Prasad Singh, AITUC, Sarovodaya Sharma, CITU, R N Thakur, AICCTU, Arun Kumar Singh, President, All India United Trade Union Centre (AIUTUC), Bihar, Nand Kishor Singh, All India Federation of Trade Unions (New), Arun Kumar, President of The Times of India Newspaper Employees Union, Patna & Member, Press Council of India and Irfan Ahmed, President, Bihar State Vendors Hawkers Federation.
The leaders expressed support for villagers’ movement against asbestos factories and they termed such toxic factories as anti-people and anti-public health which must be banned as per the recommendations of the WHO.
Prof. D M Diwakar, Director, A N Sinha Institute of Social Studies, Patna argued for preventive approach to deal with the impending crisis due to environmental and occupational diseases. Consent of villagers for all the industrial activities must be considered mandatory. Alternatives to hazardous substances should be promoted because public health concerns are non-negotiable.
The conference urged central government to take action on its announcement that “Government of India is considering the ban on use of chrysotile asbestos in India to protect the workers and the general population against primary and secondary exposure to Chrysotile form of Asbestos" at page no. 28 of its concept paper at the two-day 5th India-EU Joint Seminar on “Occupational Safety and Health” during 19-20 September, 2011.
In January 2012, Union Ministry of Labour set up a Advisory Committee to implement Supreme Court order issued 15 years ago since ILO has also made certain specific directions vide its Resolution of 2006 introducing a ban on all mining, manufacture, recycling and use of all forms of asbestos.
The conference was critical of the central government for announcing that “Alternatives to asbestos may be used to the extent possible and use of asbestos may be phased out" in the Vision Statement on Environment and Health of Union Ministry of Environment & Forests but it continues to grant to grant environmental clearance to hazardous asbestos factories. It was also critical of State Government which is turning a blind eye to the public health concerns being raised in Vaishali and Bhojpur in Bihar against the asbestos factories.
Instead, fake and fabricated cases are being lodged against the villagers who have displayed scientific temper which the State Government has failed to show so far.
The conference called on the central government to withdraw fiscal incentives from the asbestos industry to discourage use of asbestos products instead of promoting it. But State Government should act at the earliest to save the lives of its citizens without waiting for the Central government to act.
More than 55 countries have banned asbestos to protect the life of present and future generation of Australian citizens. Government of India is taking steps in this direction but in instalments. Some ministries have been given conflicting signals.
Government of India and State Government should coordinate and pay heed to the wisdom available in Union Ministry of Labour and announce immediate ban on the deadly asbestos fibres.
Case studies were presented from Rajasthan by Rana Sengupta, by Amitabh Patra of Odisha, by Pralhad Malvadkar of Maharasthra, by Ragunath Manwar of Gujarat and Tarkeshar Giri and Lalit Ghosh of Muzaffarpur and Vaishali, Bihar.
The Conference on Environmental and Occupational Health was co-organized by ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA), A N Sinha Institute of Social Studies, Patna, Centre for Occupational and Environmental Health, Maulana Azad Medical College, New Delhi, and PEACE, New Delhi.