South Asia UpdatePublished by MAC on 2006-09-30
South Asia update
30th September 2006
Since the cold-blooded killing of seven demonstrators against UK-based Asia Energy's proposed coal mine in Phulbari, last month, the Bangladesh government has vacillated over implementing the agreement made with the local people to scrap the deal. Now, the prime mininster's office appears to be taking steps to do just that.
Those opposed to siting POSCO's vast steel plant on their land in Orissa find their pleas falling on death ears. The Indian government has announced that the South Korean company is among thirty one enterprises to be granted permission to set up a Special Economic Zone - a mechanism which gives massive tax breaks to corporates, skirts basic environmental scrutiny and threatens to infring the rights of workers.
The Aditya Alumininum company has been "explaining" its plans for an alumininum complex in Orissa which would dig bauxite from a forest reserve and smelt it in Jharsaguda (where the UK company Vedanta also plans an alumininum smelter).
Despite a recommendation from the Indian High court earlier this year, that workers at Bharat Gold Fields in Karnataka should be allowed to re-open their mine under collective management, the government still wants to close it down.
In the face of conclusive evidence of the deadly impacts of asbestos, India has been increasing its use of the carcinogenic materia, backed by companies and articles they've planted in the media . A Delhi physician urges scientists to join with peoples' organisations in exposing the dnager and the lies.
Energy div asked to move against Asia Energy deal
Aminul Islam, NewAge
30th September 2006
The Prime Minister's Office on Thursday asked the Energy and Mineral Resources Division to take 'necessary steps' to scrap the agreement with the UK-based Asia Energy on Phulbari coalfield in Dinajpur.
The PMO move came one month after the Rajshahi mayor, Miznur Rahman, signed an agreement with the protesters at Phulbari for the cancellation of the contract with the Asia Energy and expulsion of the company from Bangladesh.
A PMO order, signed by a director, Shafiur Rahman, directed the division on Thursday to 'take necessary steps to implement the agreement that Mizanur Rahman signed on behalf of the government with demonstrators on August 30', sources in the Prime Minister's Office said.
When contacted, energy secretary AMM Nasir Uddin told New Age on Friday he received the PMO letter and the division would take steps on the agreement the Rajshahi mayor signed.
'We will scrutinise legal aspects for scraping the agreement with the Asia Energy,' he said.
When asked whether the deal could be scrapped during the tenure of the present government, Nasir said, 'We will try to complete the procedure [to scrap the deal] as soon as possible, but all depends on the legal aspects.'
Sources in the Prime Minister's Office said the order was issued after Mizanur Rahman had forwarded a letter a few days ago requesting the PMO to take steps to cancel the government deal with the Asia Energy and expel the company from Bangladesh as per the agreement he signed with the protesters. The mayor sent a similar letter to energy secretary AMM Nasir Uddin.
Mizanur Rahman signed the six-point agreement on behalf of the government on August 30 at Phulbari in Dinajpur four days after the non-stop violent agitation, in which five were killed in police firing, against the Asia Energy's proposed open-pit mining of the coalfield.
Anu Mohammad, member secretary of the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power and Port that spearheaded the movement against the company in Dinajpur, signed the agreement on behalf of the demonstrators.
Nasir on Tuesday sent a letter to the principal secretary to the Prime Minister's Office, Kamal Uddin Siddiqui, asking what the division should do regarding the mayor's letter.
A number of experts of a technical committee, which scrutinised the Asia Energy's development scheme (mining plan) and the agreement the government signed with the company in 1998, told New Age the government could 'easily' scrap the deal with the company if it wanted.
The committee, headed by Professor M Nurul Islam of the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology, submitted its report to the government on Sunday.
'If the government announces it does not approve the development scheme of the company, which proposes open-pit mining, the agreement with the company will lose its validity,' said an expert.
'We have already mentioned in the report on the scheme that it should not be approved on any count - legal, technological, financial, environmental and institutional.'
He said there was hardly any chance that the company would win any international arbitration if it wanted to go to any international court when the government scrapped the deal, as there were numerous loopholes in the agreement.
The original agreement on Phulbari was signed with the BHP in 1994 and it was handed over to the Asia Energy in 1998 with the same condition.
He said the agreement was handed over to the Asia Energy in 1998 in violation of the mining rules as the exploration licence with the BHP expired in 1997 which was given to the company for three years.
Although the existing mining rules during the period said the royalty rate should be 20 per cent, the agreement with the BHP was signed with a royalty rate of 6 per cent in 1994.
In 1995, amendments were made to the mining rules and the royalty rate was fixed at 6 per cent.
It found the agreement was signed with the Asia Energy in 1998, but no gazette notification was issued in this regard till 2006, although mining rules said gazette notification would need to be made immediately.
He said the development scheme of the company proposed mining in an area of 6,500 hectares although as per the rules it should have proposed mining in an area of about 400 hectares.
'So the government has every right to disapprove the development scheme the company submitted and ultimately scrap the deal with the company,' he said.
The company did not submit the guarantee money of about Tk 2,000 crore with the development scheme that the company submitted to the government in 2005 although as per the rules it was supposed to deposit three per cent of the development cost.
Resist open-pit mining at Fulbari: Speakers tell discussion
Staff Correspondent, The Daily Star
30th September 2006
Speakers at a discussion meeting yesterday called for resisting Asia Energy or any other company which will try to conduct open-pit mining at Fulbari in Dinajpur district.
They also urged the government to implement the agreement that it reached with the people of Fulbari during the violent protest one month ago.
The speakers termed the deal between Asia Energy and the government discriminatory and called for its immediate cancellation.
The discussion was organised jointly by Bangladesh Adivasi Odhikar Andolon and Bangladesh Adivasi Forum at the National Press Club auditorium in the city.
Prof Mesbah Kamal of Dhaka University chaired the discussion where Secretary General of Adivasi Forum Sanjeeb Drong was present as main discussant.
Sanjeeb said Asia Energy violated international convention as it did not conduct any prior consultation with the local indigenous and Bengali speaking people.
"Since the independence we have found the same character of all governments. All of them maintained discriminatory attitude towards indigenous people," he added.
Anu Muhammed, secretary general of National Committee for Oil-Gas-Power, Mineral Resources and Port Protection, said Fulbari movement was a unique one as all people irrespective of their caste and creed took part in it.
"Now Asia Energy has no option but to leave the country as the local people would not allow them to stay anymore," said Anu Muhammed.
Ruhin Hossain Prince, secretary of the central committee of the Communist Party of Bangladesh, said people of Fulbari have become a real hero of the movement.
Prof Mesbah said Fulbari movement was successful as it was a joint movement of indigenous and Bengali speaking people.
Pankaj Bhattacharya, presidium member of Gono Forum, Haider Akbar Khan Rano, politburo member of Workers' Party, Kerina Hasda, a representative of Santal Community, Hiron Mitra Chakma, vice president of Adivasi Student Parishad, and Abdul Mazid Chowdhury of Fulbari also spoke on the occasion.
Earlier, the participants of the discussion observed a one- minute silence to show respect to seven people who sacrificed their lives during the Fulbari movement.
Anti-POSCO groups begin relay hunger strike
Bhubaneswar, (Asia Pulse Data Source via COMTEX)
26th September 2006
A group of activists, including villagers from the proposed site of South Korean steel major POSCO's proposed 12 million tonne mega steel project, today launched relay hunger strike against the setting up of the project here today.
For a week now, the group had been staging demonstrations against the state government as well as the Centre's cooperation for the POSCO project near the port town of Paradip.
"POSCO is out to plunder all natural resource of the state. Hundreds of villagers will lose their source of livelihood due to the project," Akshya Kumar, national convenor of Naba Nirman Samiti, said.
Kumar is the only person who is on indefinite hunger strike while others are giving him moral support by launching relay hunger strike.
"When villagers displaced by a refinery project by Indian Oil Corporation have not received any compensation though it was taken up eight years ago, will the state government give any gaurantee for the huge displacement to be caused by the POSCO project?," he asked.
The villagers of the area are economically very strong due to betel cultivation, fishing and horticulture, Kumar said adding the project would force them to lead a beggar's life.
Activists associated with Naba Nirman Samiti and Rashtriya Yuva Sangathan from eight states also sat in dharna to support the cause.
The activists sought explanation from Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik for promoting the project. "He should come to an open forum and explain the wisdom of allowing a foreign company to set up the project on fertile land here."
Posco, 30 other SEZ proposals get BoA nod
29th September 2006
South Korean steel giant Posco's proposal to set up a mega Special Economic Zone in Orissa with an investment of Rs 53,000 crore was among the 31 proposals cleared by the Board of Approvals.
While the mega multi-product SEZ of Posco in Orissa's Jagatsinghpur district was given in-principle nod along with 12 others, the board also gave final approval to 18 cases. Posco's SEZ would be spread over an area of 1,601 hectares.
With today's decision, the number of SEZs that have got final approval has gone up to 181, according to an official release issued here.
Aware of the storm that land acquisition for SEZs has created, the release mentioned that state government representatives present at the BoA meeting confirmed all the zones cleared today would come up either on waste land, barren land or single crop land.
Besides, six more SEZs, which have already got government approvals, were notified today taking the total number of zones that have been notified to 32.
The biggest SEZ that was notified today belonged to Essar Group at Hazira in Gujarat. The SEZ would be dedicated to engineering products and would be spread over an area of 247.5 hectares.
Zydus's 48.83 hectare pharma SEZ in Ahmedabad was also notified along with four IT SEZs.
This was the fifth meeting of the BoA since the SEZ Act came into force in February this year. The Board will hold three more meetings over the next ten days to clear pending applications for setting up SEZs.
Land acquisition decried
Statesman News Service
BHUBANESWAR, Sept. 26: Timing their protests with plethora of MoUs signed today, the Jibika Banchao Andolan activists decried the mindless vesting of thousands of acres of valuable land to MNCs and adding to the already existing 5 lakh landless in the state by uprooting people.
Led by president of the Andolan Mr Kedar Ray, several social activists, including Mr Rabi Behera, Mr Pratap Sahu, Mr Alok Mohanty, Mr Direndra and Mr Haladhar Sethy, delivered fiery speeches condemning the government's MoU madness. It is blindly signing one MoU after another throwing open its natural resources to the mercy of MNC's without any assessment of land requirement or the implications of all these industries.
The health, education and other social sectors are ignored, lakh of people do not get a small piece of homestead land and yet the government is hell bent to uproot and displace people, they alleged. The one who controls land and water resources will rule the world and these MNCs are out to grab it, they said. They demanded consent of villages through gram sabha before signing of MoU with any company and constitution of an independent expert committee to assess the land requirement of each industry.
Each and every displaced family should have a job in the project, land for land and means of livelihood, homestead land for all landless people within three months, were amongst the other demands voiced by the organisation.
Minister speaks of a 'developed' Orissa
Statesman News Service
ROURKELA, Sept. 27: Orissa will soon be on a par with developed countries, finance minister Mr Prafulla Chandra Ghadei claimed today, while addressing a gathering during the annual day celebration of Bharat Darshan, a vernacular daily, here.
"We are on the threshold of development triggered by major investments and in no time our state will be recognised as one of the most advanced states in the country," Mr Ghadei stated.
Speaking on investments and the R & R policy, the minister said: "We have the best rehabilitation package in the country and all of us should be united to avail of the benefits of development in our state."
Referring to the reports in The Statesman on the West Bengal government's pro-active moves to free land from farmers for establishing Tata Motors' automobile project at Singur, he said the interest of the state was paramount for them and ministers were directly seeing to it that land was available for the project.
Mr Ghadei was critical of Centre's policy towards the state and alleged that the UPA government was trying to weaken Orissa and through financial jugglery, they were trying to show that the KBK fund was intact, though the situation was different.
Earlier, Mr KC Mallick, founder president of BISWA, an NGO, lauded the state government's efforts to develop the state. He favoured the industrialisation process going on at the moment and noted that along with agricultural development, industrialisation too was needed at the same pace.
CEO of Adhnik Group Mr HS Sidhu, vice-president of Bhusan Power and Steel Mr SK Mishra and Rourkela MLA Mr Sarada Nayak also spoke on the occasion. Mr Bingyan Mishra, the editor of the paper, welcomed the guests.
Aditya reaches out to people
Statesman News Service
KORAPUT, Sept. 27: Aditya Aluminium Company moved one more step towards establishing a 10,000 crore mining project by explaining about the pros of the project to the people and addressing their grievances at a public hearing held close to the mines site today.
The project entails mining of bauxite from the Kalingamali reserve near Laxmipur. The company officials asserted that the project would not adversely affect the water sources of the area and that they would provide 5 per cent of the profit earned from the mining towards peripheral development. Besides the officials from the company, the ADM and sub-collector of Koraput also attended the meeting. Talking to reporters, Mr SM Arshad, deputy general manager of the company, informed that the project was a joint venture between OMC and Aditya Aluminium Company. The entire project will be divided into three parts: mining, refinery plant near Kansariguda and the smelter and power plant at Jharsuguda, he added.
He said 300 families would be displaced by the project and the company would adhere to the Rehabilitation and Resettlement policy of the state government. Dispelling apprehensions over the impact of mining activities on the environment, he said since water resources originated well below the bauxite reserve on the mountains the mining would have little effect on them. Mr Manoranjan Nayak, the environment consultant to the company, said latest technology would be adopted to protect environment, both below and above surface of the soil, while storing the red mud, residue from the plant.
Bharat Gold Mines workers step up stir
Special Correspondent, The Hindu
26th September 2006
BANGALORE: A large section of workers belonging to the sick Bharat Gold Mines Limited (BGML) have stepped up their agitation demanding revival of the mines by planning a bandh in Kolar on September 27.
"The Government should consider the proposal of Global Gold Mines Industrial Cooperative Society Ltd formed by 2,858 workers to take over the mines since it has given all the four offers of Modified Voluntary Retirement Scheme, resuming mining operations with all the 3,100 workers using available technology at BGML and no open-cast mining at Kolar township," said V.J.K. Nair, General Secretary, Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) that is backing the bandh.
Mr. Nair alleged that a rival "bogus society" floated by an officer Divakaran with the tacit support of a local politician from Kolar was scuttling the revival process by adopting "dubious means to pull the strings with the Central Government." This had led to delay in submitting to the Centre the status report prepared by the Deputy Commissioner of Kolar in February this year verifying the authenticity of the Global Gold Mines Industrial Cooperative Society Ltd.
As a result, the Union Cabinet at a meeting held on July 27, 2006 took certain decisions to pave the way for the smooth closure of the mines. However, Mr. Nair said that the Cabinet decision could not be implemented until the High Court approved the winding up of the company.
The workers are now pinning hopes on the High Court that had earlier recommended that the mines be given to a cooperative society formed by the workers. Moreover, though the Board for Industrial and Financial Reconstruction (BIFR) had ordered closure of the mines, the Appellate Authority for Industrial and Financial Reconstruction (AAFIR) had found that the revival of the mines was "financially viable."
Following intense pressure from the workers, the Deputy Commissioner of Kolar had submitted the verification report to the Commerce and Industries Ministry, Government of Karnataka, on September 7 for onward submission to the Centre.
Chrysotile in India: Truth Held Hostage
S. Chaturvedi, Editorial, Indian Journal of Community Medicine
Vol. 31, No. 1 (2006-01 - 2006-03)
Information showing asbestos-cancer relationship was available as early as the 1940's. During next 2 decades, enough epidemiological as well as experimental evidence was generated to prove this relationship. For half a century the asbestos industry, in collaboration with some of the leaders of occupational and respiratory medicine, was able to suppress most of the data1. Meanwhile, millions of people were exposed to the carcinogen and hundreds of thousand died. The knowledge that asbestos causes cancer became public in the 80's, not because of scientific community but as a result of prolonged struggle and legal actions by ordinary people. For decades, certain privileged sections of the world order, including some scientists, were instrumental in the enormous release of a known carcinogen, just to keep their 'profits' intact. Now we have a job on our hands - for a century - to combat the insult. Isn't it a profound statement on our times, our polity and to an extent our science?
This is just a punctuation in the whole story that ceases to conclude. It has worrisome sequelae, especially for the developing countries. Burden of industrial pollutants reach this part of the world much faster than the fruits of industrial growth. Bias of global power structure against us is there for all to see. However, certain crippling local factors contribute to our suffering in equal measure. Weak politics, weak science and weak legislation - further impaired by spurious enforcement - is no match to a strong and defiant corporate, augmented by opportunistic use of mass media. Projections suggest that asbestos cancer epidemic may take more than 10 million lives before the exposures are brought to an end by banning asbestos globally2.
Asbestos is the generic term given to a group of fibrous minerals found throughout the upper crust of Earth. Chrysotile, amosite, crocidolite and anthophyllite are four commercially important forms. Chrysotile (white asbestos) alone accounts for 95% of global asbestos production. Most of it comes from Quebec, Canada3. The largest user of chrysotile fiber (85% of total use) is asbestos cement industry4. Today we have incontrovertible evidence that besides causing a progressive fibrotic disease of lung called asbestosis, asbestos (including chrysotile) also causes cancer of lung, malignant mesothelioma of pleura and peritoneum, cancer of larynx and some gastrointestinal cancers5-8. In late eighties and nineties, scientific community responded with earnestness and clarity. The impact was positive and immediate. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)3 and WHO's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC)9 declared asbestos a proven human carcinogen. When some doubts were raised that white asbestos may be having lower level of carcinogenicity than other forms, the issue was carefully re-examined. Some studied inferences have been drawn after careful deliberations: chrysotile, like all other forms, is a potent human carcinogen; no threshold has been identified for carcinogenic risks; asbestos exposure and smoking have synergistic effect on risk of lung cancer; and chrysotile should be replaced by safer substitutes, wherever available9-12.
Over 40 countries have banned all forms of asbestos, including chrysotile. From January 2005, no asbestos product would be released in all 25 member states of European Union. In contrast, the Indian asbestos companies continue to flourish in pro-asbestos climate. Since new asbestos use in being made increasingly difficult in developed world, the global asbestos corporate is trying to create new markets in the countries with weak legislation. Rapid growth potentials are being used as a ploy to stall the process of asbestos-ban. The results are visible, with an annual growth of 9% in asbestos-cement sector in India. Market stakeholders have a strong incentive. They are influencing policy to ensure a constant reduction in asbestos custom duties. One of India's biggest asbestos-cement companies, reported a net income of over 10 million US$ for 3rd quarter of 2004, an increase of 25% on the preceding quarter. Its new production unit in Karnataka should be operational by now. Rising revenue and increasing manufacturing capacity of all major asbestos players make asbestos a 'good investment' in share market according to financial analysts and advisors14.
Vast majority of the asbestos produce (80%) is used for rural low-cost housing, schools and industrial structures. Recently, efforts were made to use asbestos products in the rehabilitation work for the tsunami victims, even when safer, non-inflammable substitutes existed.
To dominate the Indian asbestos agenda, a corporate sponsored misinformation campaign has taken aggressive mode in public domain. India has seen a media blitzkrieg of pro-asbestos propaganda in 2003-2004. Initially is started with full page advertisements15,16 in most of the national dailies and magazines, appearing on regular basis. Then came the spate of speical supplements, full page features and news stories. They were apparently authored by the asbestos cement manufacturers but the credit line was either anonymous or belonged to the newspaper, providing much needed reach and credibility to the industry17. Many of these features have misreported scientific papers and proceedings18.
Web-based electronic news papers are following such stories. Counterpoints and protests are either ignored or marginalized to small letters. This cynical abuse of money and power under the garb of freedom of expression continued in 200519. We can't expect a dramatic change in the character of big media. It is not simply a matter of funding. In fact, the corporate owns most of the channels of mass communication by proxy. Financers have acquired a direct control over editorial policies and space for independent opinion has been pushed to margins.
In this climate, there are no level playing fields and asbestos industry is likely to enjoy a huge clandestine support by 'hidden persuaders'. However, this can be effectively neutralized by peoples' awareness and concerted perseverance of scientific associations. A scientific debate that relates to people's health is being played out in public, without any visible opposition. The only way out seems to be academics' direct partnership with people. It would be fatalistic to say that that academics don't stand a chance against media onslaught. Even a single vote matters and can start a critical motion for huge changes.
Coming back to Lilienfeld's historial work1, it must be noted with concern that such type of science-corporate nexus is not limited to asbestos alone. A similar history has been documented in the dye industry as well20. Response of civil society - including the state - has been suboptimal to prevent recurrences. We continue to live with the risk of similar public health disasters, more so in the developing world. Wherever funding agencies are allowed to set the agenda in science, truth is likely to be held hostage. To quote Lilienfeld: "The degree to which scientific fraud permeated published reports is also of concern. The activities described suggest that that fraud in non-governmentally supported research occurs, and that it has potentially great impact on health policy.
However, unemployment or withdrawal of research support may be the ultimate 'reward' for those who do not participate in such activities. The implementation of mechanisms to prevent such fraud should not await yet another public health tragedy."
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3) Environmental Protection Agency. Airborne asbestos health assessment update. Washington DC: The Agency, 1986.
4) World Health Organization. Environmental health criteria 203: chrysotile asbestos. Geneva: The Organization, 1998: 1-9.
5) Lamen RA. Chrysotile asbestos as a cause of mesothelioma: application of the Hill causation model. Int J Occup Environ Health. 2004; 10:233-9.
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13) http://www.btinternet.com/ibas/lka%20indian%20comp%20pro%20asb.htm#1. Madhan G. Gamco Industries: Buy. Financial Daily-The Hindu. 2004 Oct. 17.
14) Chrysotile Asbestos Cement Products Manufacturers' Association. Advertisement. India Today. 2002 Sep 2.
15) Chrysotile Asbestos Cement Products Manufacturers' Association. Advertisement. Hindustan Times. 2003 Jul 8.
16) Anonymous. Blast those myths about asbestos cement (a special feature). The Indian Express. 2003 Jul 15.
17) Scientific findings squash asbestos cement myth at international conference. The Indian Express. 2004 Jan 24.
18) Tehelka bureau. The Return of Asbestos: With environmental norms in palce, the uncertainty surrounding this industry recedes as companies plan to get out of the gloom. Tehelka. 2005 Feb [cited 2005 Mar 9]. Available from :
19) http://www.tehelka.com/story%20main10.asp?filename=Bu020505The return.asp. Michaels D. Waiting for the body count: corporate decisionmaking and bladder cancer in the U.S. dye industry. Med Anthropol Q. 1988;2:215-32.
20)University College of Medical Sciences and GTB Hospital, Delhi.