Friday 29 September 2017

Like Japan, make Gujarat asbestos free to save residents, consumers, workers and children from exposure to carcinogenic asbestos fibers

Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI)                   ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA)


Chief Secretary
Government of Gujarat
Subject: Like Japan, make Gujarat asbestos free to save residents, consumers, workers and children from exposure to carcinogenic asbestos fibers


With reference to the above mentioned subject and the recent visit of Shri Shinzo Abe and his wife Smt Akie Abe to Gujarat accompanied by our Hon’ble Prime Minister Shri PM Narendra Modi, we wish to bring the following facts to your attention for immediate remedial action amidst unprecedented but unacknowledged environmental and occupational health crisis in Gujarat:
1.      In 2002 a total ban on asbestos was announced in Japan, following many years of failed attempt to undertake safe and controlled use. In 2004, the Government of Japan began phasing out the use of asbestos with the introduction of a partial ban; a total ban was promised by 2008. Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare has announced  total prohibition on production,  import,  transfer,  provision  or  use  of  asbestos  or  any  material  containing  more than 0.1% asbestos by weight. Reference:
2.      As per Constitution of India, health is a state subject; therefore similar initiative is required by States like Gujarat. Like Japanese Government, Gujarat and other states of India too should announce that “We requests that enterprises importing machinery or other products into India confirm that the packing, gaskets, etc. of such products contain no asbestos, based on supporting documents or analytical results before importing such products.
3.      In a reply Joint Secretary, Labour and Employment Department, Government of Gujarat has submitted the Action Taken Report furnished by the Director Industrial Safety & Health, Gujarat State. In this reply it is stated that “Asbestosis is declared as notifiable occupational diseases in Third Schedule under section 89 and 90 of the Factories Act. The workers working in the registered factories are eligible for compensation either under the Employees Compensation Act, 1923 or under the Employees State Insurance Act.”
4.      This reply reveals that “22 workers of Gujarat Composite Ltd, Kaligam, Ahmedabad, who were suspected victims of asbestosis were sent for medical check-up to National Institute of Occupational Health. Out of them, following two workers were confirmed for Asbestosis by N.I.O.H.: (1) Shri Hazarilal Manraj and (2) Shri Sahejram B Yadav.”  The relevant attached document shows asbestos victims certified by NIOH, Ahmedabad are not being given compensation as per Hon’ble Court's order.
5.      The reply discloses that “Letters dated 24/12/2002, 16/10/2006 and 19/1/2007 were issued to the Gujarat Composite Ltd. to pay compensation of Rs 1 lac to the above two victims as per the direction of the Hon’ble Supreme Court. Gujarat Composite Ltd. has denied to pay compensation to the above workers as the company has challenged the report of N.I.O.H. This fact is mentioned in the affidavit made before the Hon’ble Supreme Court that the Gujarat Composite Ltd. has not paid the compensation to the victims as per the directions given in the Writ Petition (C) No. 206/1986. Thus, the State Government has taken all the steps required for the protection of workers from Asbestosis in factories of Gujarat State.”  It may be noted that Gujarat Composite Ltd (formerly named Digvijay Cement Company) appears to be attempting to hide behind myriad corporate veils by changing names and by outsourcing its work (to agencies like Apurva Vinimay and Infrastructure Division).
6.      This reply does not disclose that there is a case of 62 workers pending in the Gujarat Human Rights Commission wherein 23 workers have been medically examined at the direction of the State Human Rights Commission but their report has not been shared.
7.      This reply submits that Government of Gujarat has adopted the ILO Convention on Asbestos (Convention 162) of 1986. It has ignored the ILO Resolution of June 14, 2006, Its clause 2 reads: The ILO Asbestos Convention, 1986 (No. 162), provides for the measures to be taken for the prevention and control of, and protection of workers against, health hazards due to occupational exposure to asbestos. Key provisions of Convention No. 162 concern: – replacement of asbestos or of certain types of asbestos or products containing asbestos with other materials or products evaluated as less harmful, – total or partial prohibition of the use of asbestos or of certain types of asbestos or products containing asbestos in certain work processes, – measures to prevent or control the release of asbestos dust into the air and to ensure that the exposure limits or other exposure criteria are complied with and also to reduce exposure to as low a level as is reasonably practicable.  Its clause 4 in paragraph 3 reads: “The Resolution also underlined that the ILO Convention on Safety in the Use of Asbestos, No. 162, should not be used to provide a justification for, or endorsement of, the continued use of asbestos.”
8.      This Resolution concerning asbestos was adopted by the International Labour Conference at its 95th Session in 2006 calls for “the elimination of the future use of asbestos and the identification and proper management of asbestos currently in place as the most effective means to protect workers from asbestos exposure and to prevent future asbestos-related diseases and deaths”.
9.      In his reply Joint Secretary, Labour and Employment Department, Government of Gujarat has enclosed the notification of Union Ministry of Labour and Employment constituting an Advisory Committee in pursuance of the judgment of Hon’ble Supreme Court.
10.  There are four terms of reference (TOR) of this Advisory Committee. Two of these TORs deal with ‘ILO guidelines’ and ‘fresh resolution passed by ILO”. The reply does not recognize that the ‘fresh resolution passed by ILO’ refers to the above mentioned June 2006 resolution.
11.  Director Industrial Safety & Health, Gujarat State has filed the ‘Compliance Report of Para 16 of Directions of the Hon’ble Supreme Court in Writ Petition (Civil) No. 260 of 2004. This document submits that “Use of Crocidolite and product containing this fiber is prohibited in the State as per the guide line of the ILO convention 162 for Asbestos. This report does not reveal how Hon’ble Court’s direction regarding ‘fresh resolution passed by ILO” seeking elimination of future use of asbestos is being complied with.
12.  In a separate evasive reply, Senior Environment Engineer, Gujarat Pollution Control Board has failed to reveal the status of asbestos related diseases in the asbestos based factories in the State and the procurement of asbestos based products by the State Government and the residents of the State. It does concede that “Asbestos” is identified as having hazardous properties with regard to health effects but its reply is highly unsatisfactory given the fact that Gujarat is emerging as the asbestos disease capital of India. In fact the Writ Petition (Civil) No. 206 of 1986 in which the Hon’ble Supreme Court gave the directions with regard to adverse impact of asbestos industry in 1995 was filed due to cases of asbestos victims in Gujarat.
13.  Even this somewhat lackadaisical letter which confines itself to the Asbestos containing material management at Bhavnagar’s Alang Ship Breaking Yard generated during shipbreaking activity, it has not disclosed the findings of the study by National Institute of Occupational Health (NIOH), Ahmedabad undertaken in compliance of the instructions of the Hon’ble Supreme Court constituted Technical Experts Committee. The same was filed in the Hon’ble Court revealing how 16 % of the workers on the Alang beach involved in ship breaking are exposed to asbestos fibers.
14.  It is noteworthy that the UN Special Rapporteur who visited Alang, Gujarat took note of the adverse effects of the movement and dumping of toxic and dangerous products and wastes on the enjoyment of human rights. He noted, “most workers, but reportedly also a number of yard owners, are not aware of the serious life-threatening work-related diseases which may result from long-term exposure to toxic and hazardous substances and materials present on end-of-life ships. In particular, it appears that the majority of the workforce and the local population do not know the adverse consequences of prolonged exposure to asbestos dusts and fibres and are not familiar with the precautions that need to be taken to handle asbestos-containing materials.” Almost all the workers are migrant workers from UP, Bihar, Jharkahnd and Odisha. There is no documentation of the deaths and diseases due to exposures to asbestos fibers of these workers but lack of documentation does not mean absence of occupational health crisis in Alang.
15.  It has come to light from the Office Memorandum dated May 2011 that Ministry of Environment & Forests (MoEF)’s Standing Monitoring Committee (SMC) on Shipbreaking has suggested that monitoring of asbestos in ambient air at shipbreaking yards on Alang beach “shall be commissioned by GMB for carrying out the same by a reputed institute like NIOH, as a onetime study.” The facts is Asbestos cannot be handled safely or in a controlled manner. Therefore, International Labour Organisation’s resolution of June 2006 and World Health Organisation’s resolution of 2005 seek elimination of future use of asbestos. Indian workers in general and migrant workers of Alang should not be made to handle asbestos under any situation.
16.  The above mentioned reply does not reveal the health status of the workers at the asbestos cement sheet plant in Kachchh in Gujarat operated by Ramco Industries. It is totally silent about the health impact of asbestos units like Charminar Asbestos, Royal Asbestos, Supreme Asbestos Trading Company,  Eagle Asbestos Pvt Ltd, Shree Khodiyar Asbestos Company, Shiv Shakti Enterprises, Royal Asbestos and several others. The reply of Gujarat Government has failed to report whether Gujarat State has the environmental and occupational health infrastructure in place to diagnose asbestos related diseases.
In the context of these facts we submit that State Government should ensure decontamination of asbestos from the old schools and ensure that no asbestos roofs or any asbestos material is used in any school or public or private building in Gujarat.
We submit that Gujarat Government should take steps to ensure that only non-asbestos building material and water supply pipes etc are procured. A register of asbestos laden buildings and victims of asbestos related diseases should be created. A compensation fund for the victims of primary and secondary exposure must be established.
We submit that substitutes for asbestos based products are not limited to products that simply replace asbestos with another material (e.g., PVA and cellulose in fiber-cement roofing sheet).  There are also a number of wholly different products that can replace the asbestos products. It is noteworthy that asbestos of all kinds including white chrysotile asbestos is banned in some 60 countries. 
While asbestos mining is technically banned in our country, in a shocking case of inconsistency India continues to import asbestos from asbestos producing countries like Russia, Brazil Kazakhstan and China. Trade in asbestos waste (dust and fiber) is also banned.  Now that Brazil’s Federal Supreme Court has declared use of asbestos as unconstitutional, it is most likely that after Canada which used to be a supplier of asbestos to India even Brazil too will stop being supplier to India.
We submit that by letter dated 9th July, 1986  from Union Ministry of Steel, Mines & Coal, Government of India with reference no. 7/23/84-AM-III/AM-VI there is a stay on grant of new mining lease for asbestos mineral and renewal of the leases. Reiterating the same in June 1993, central government stopped the renewal of existing mining leases of asbestos. The mining activity was banned by Union Ministry of Mines.  As a result at present no permission is being given for new mining lease of asbestos mineral and no lease is being renewed. At present no lease of asbestos mineral is approved/or in force in the country.
It is strange that while mining of asbestos is banned in the country due to adverse health impact, the same is being imported from Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Zimbabwe. It high time governments stopped practicing such untenable policies displaying manifest double standards.
Given the fact that these days what Gujarat thinks today, rest of India thinks tomorrow, it is hoped that rest India will follow the example.
In view of the above mentioned facts, we demand that all the asbestos based companies should be asked to switch non-asbestos materials in the light of the fact that some 60 countries have banned all kinds of asbestos including white chrysotile asbestos mineral fibers that causes incurable lung cancer according to World Health Organisation (WHO). This will go a long way in combating fatal diseases caused corporate crimes and in making Gujarat the first state in the country to adopt zero-tolerance policy towards these killer mineral fibers.
We will have happy to share required documents in this regard.
Thanking you in anticipation
Warm Regards
Dr Gopal Krishna
Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI)
ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA)
Mb: 08227816731, 09818089660

Hon’ble Chief Minister, Government of Gujarat
Hon’ble Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India
Hon’ble Union Minister of Commerce & Industry, Government of India
Hon’ble Union Minister of Environment, Forest, Climate Change, Science & Technology and Earth Sciences, Government of India

"We may admire what he does, but we despise what he is."-referring to humans who act mechanically on instructions-------Wilhelm von Humboldt, 1792

Tuesday 11 January 2011

Ban on all forms of asbestos

Take Offensive to Defend Rights: UITTB

Debanjan Chakrabarti

THE Trade Union International of Workers of the Building, Wood and Building Materials Industries’ (UITBB), an affiliate of the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU), held its 15th world congress at Salvador in Brazil from December 6 to 9. A total of 96 delegates from 31 countries --- Albania, Australia, Brazil, Cameroon, Canada, Chile, Columbia, Cuba, Cyprus, El Salvador, Finland, France, Gabon, Greece, India, Japan, Lebanon, Mali, Martinique, Niger, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Portugal, Senegal, Spain, Syria, Togo, Uruguay, Venezuela and Vietnam --- participated in this congress. Debanjan Chakrabarti and N Veeraswamy attended on behalf of the Construction Workers Federation of India (CITU).

The policy document of the congress referred to an ILO report’s conclusion that at the end of 2009 the number of unemployed in the world was over 200 million. In addition, 1.4 billion workers were those who earned only two dollars a day. This figure accounts for 45 per cent of the world’s working population.

According to Jean Ziegler, former UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, in 2009 the 500 most powerful private multinational companies controlled 52 per cent of the gross world product, that is, 52 per cent of all the wealth produced on the planet in one year. At the same time a billion human beings are seriously and permanently undernourished.

Today, the capitalist class has turned far more aggressive in comparison to the four post-war decades. It is now brazenly attacking the workers, the unemployed, pensioners, young people, women and the people of the developing countries by imposing unemployment, deteriorating their working conditions and curtailing the people’s social security benefits in order to earn maximum profits. The congress asked the working class to stage counter offensives against the capitalist aggression in order to defend their rights.

Another absurdity of the capitalist system is the arms build-up in 2009 over 1500 billion dollars was spent on arms and yet it is estimated that a tenth of that amount every year for 25 years would be enough to tackle the issue of global warming.

After taking note of the current political and economic situation in various parts of the globe, the policy document noted that during the past four years the UITBB and its affiliates, together with the WFTU, have staged solidarity actions in support of peace and organised demonstrations against American aggression in Iraq and Afghanistan, the coup of Honduras, the threats voiced against Iran and North Korea, the blockade of Cuba and the actions directed Venezuela and Bolivia. The UITBB also supported the campaign of solidarity with the Palestinian people and the campaign against the suppression of trade union rights (the ABCC in Australia and the Ark Tribe  affairs, the imprisonment of Turkish trade union leaders) etc. The UITBB report of activities for the period 2006 to 2010 provided detailed information about these activities.

In context with the construction workers in particular, the policy document dealt with the problems of housing and dwindling development funds, problems of working women and child labour, hike in prices of all building materials, migrant labour, health and safety affairs.

The congress also held two special sessions: one on working women and the other on migrant labour.

Apart from delegates from different countries Debanjan Chakrabarti and Comrade N Veeraswamy also spoke in the congress.

The congress adopted 14 resolutions on the following issues: Abolition of the Building and Construction Industry Improvement Act 2005 in Australia; Ban on all forms of asbestos; Legal protection for the workers engaged in precarious employments; On peace and disarmament; To ensure occupational health and safety measures at the worksites; Against the killing trade union leaders in Colombia; Observance of the 65th anniversary of the WFTU in a befitting manner; Protection of the rights of migrant workers; On the Cyprus problem; In support of the ALBA decision for the welfare of workers and people at large; On the demand of release of 5 Cuban heroes from US jails; On the situation in the Middle East and demanding the withdrawal of Israeli forces from the Gaza Strip; For a peaceful and democratic solution of the Basque problem in Spain; and On gender equality.

Apart from the policy document and accounts, the congress adopted special papers on the working women and migrant labour.

The 15th congress of the UITBB unanimously elected a 28-member executive committee with a 7-member secretariat. Debanjan Chakrabarti (India) was among those elected to the secretariat.