MAC: Mines and Communities

India's asbestos shame

Published by MAC on 2008-11-24

"There is a political consensus in India to promote asbestos at any human cost" declares Gopal Krishna, after his country - joined by Canada, Russia and Pakistan - last month spiked the banning of crysotile asbestos under the Rotterdam Convention on Prior Informed Consent. See:

Madhumitta Dutta points out that India based its refusal to join most of the rest of the world by claiming it has to await the result of a health study on asbestos impacts. However "India failed to inform the international community ...that the study was funded in part by the asbestos industry... Still worse, the study is kept under wraps and is not accessible to public health specialists or labour groups."

Meanwhile, the links between asbestos promotion and some Indian politicians has become too scandalous to ignore.

India's asbestos politics

Comment by Gopal Krishna

21st November 2008

Indeed there is nothing surprising in Indian government's position, when the delegation is acting in the presence of Dr G Vivekananda, Managing Director of Visaka Industries who is the son of "trade unionst" G Venkataswamy, MP from Andhra Pradesh, deputy leader of ruling Indian National Congress in Lok Sabha (lower house of parliament) and a former Union Textile Minister.

Acting on a brief from Sonia Gandhi, the de facto head of the Indian state as the Chairperson of ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) who has got a Visaka asbestos cement plant in her own parliamentary constituency, the R H Khwaja, additional secretary acted amid manifest patronage the asbestos industry enjoys at the highest political level.

Besides the industry influence on government's position, the active support to the asbestos industry by the left parties like Communist Party of India (Marxist) who claim to have the mandate to fight for occupational rights of workers is highly immoral and untenable. For instance, the Chief Minister of Communist Party of India (Marxist) led government of Bengal gave the Environment Excellence Award to Utkal Asbestos Ltd.

Clearly, there is a political consensus in India to promote asbestos at any human cost. We might very soon hear the announcement about the lifting of ban on asbestos mining under the influence of Andhra Pradesh asbestos miners.

Contact Gopal Krishna at:


Poisoning the system

by Madhumita Dutta

Hindustan Times

20th November 2008

Over 40 countries have banned it, the World Health Organisation's International Agency for Research on Cancer, International Labour Organisation, Collegium Ramazzini have certified it as a human carcinogen, but India says 'we do not have enough evidence, we need more science to conclusively prove that chrysotile asbestos causes cancer or diseases among workers in India'. This was India's official position at the UN Convention on Chemicals in Rome last month.

The convention in question is the Rotterdam Convention on Prior Informed Consent, which through consensus enlists chemicals that require exchange of information on health hazards prior to trade, known as the Prior Informed Consent List (PIC list). This means that an exporting country has to notify the importing country about any domestic regulatory actions based on public health concerns, and possible health and environmental impacts of the chemical prior to trade, which would enable the importing country to make an informed decision before importation.

India and a few other countries blocked the listing of chrysotile asbestos, a fibrous mineral used in making roofs and pipes (commonly referred to as the 'poor man's construction material') and endosulphan, a crop pesticide whose toxic effect has crippled villagers in Kerala's Kasaragod district. Hiding behind the smokescreen of discredited science and specious technical arguments, India put a spanner in the works at the 4th Conference of Parties of the Convention (COP 4) attended by 126 nations that had ratified the convention.

In the case of chrysotile asbestos, India said it won't take a decision until a health study on the impact of this substance announces its findings. The study is being done by the Ahmedabad-based National Institute of Occupational Health (NIOH). However, what India failed to inform the international community was that the study was funded in part by the asbestos industry whose representatives provide 'study samples', 'scientific studies' and 'comments', and have access to all the findings of the study even while it's on. Still worse, the study is kept under wraps and is not accessible to public health specialists or labour groups.

The endosulphan story was not any different. The Indian government 'expert' claimed that Indians face lesser risk due to smaller half-life of endosulphan in tropical climate, the expert lied to the convention participants when he said that an earlier study by NIOH in Kasaragod did not show any health impact. A lie that was nailed by public interest groups when they distributed copies of the same study from the journal Environmental Health Perspective. In fact, the study prompted the Kerala government to set up a relief cell for endosulphan victims.

We evidently wanted to protect the Rs 3,000 crore asbestos lobby and to shield plants that manufacture endosulphan. In doing so, India succeeded in derailing the consensus of a vast majority of parties, mostly developing nations who had emphasised the need for scientific data to help them make an informed decision. More importantly, the shenanigans in Rome demonstrated that science was a mere fig leaf to cover the nexus between a colluding government and an avaricious industry.

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