10 June 2012

NHRC Seeks Reports on Asbestos Exposure from Centre & States

NHRC Seeks Reports on Asbestos Exposure from Centre & States

Rio 2012 People's Summit to hold program on Deadly Business of Asbestos Industry 

New Delhi, June 10, 2012: Acting on a compliant filed by ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA), in a June release, National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has underlined that most of the authorities at Centre and States/Union Territories have failed to give reports to the NHRC on safeguarding exposure to white asbestos or chrysoyile asbestos. Taking note of this omission, the NHRC had ordered for issuing reminders, returnable in six weeks, to the Chief Secretaries of all States/Union Territories and other concerned authorities at Centre who have failed to submit requisite reports on May 21, 2012.  

Earlier, on the 5th March, 2012, NHRC had given six weeks more time when most of them failed to give the requisite reports.  A copy of the June 5, 2012 release of NHRC and its original notice of July 6, 2011 is attached. Such callous approach of the governments in India merit criticism

TWA has sought Commission's intervention for a ban on the use of chrysotile asbestos (white asbestos), which is hazardous for the health of people and causes various incurable diseases. The white asbestos is a fibrous material used for building roofs and walls and various in other forms. 

Notably, People’s Summit, Rio 2012 is organsing a program on "Deadly Business – Asbestos: Are you the next victim?" on 15 June 2012 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in the backdrop of epidemic of asbestos related diseases. The invitation letter from the Brazilian organisers of this meeting reads: "Chrysotile Asbestos is a global killer, with over 100,000 occupational death annually." More than 50 countries no longer produce nor use Asbestos, a deadly killer. It refers to "the most vulnerable communities who use and work with asbestos, in India including women and children." 

TWA expresses its deep sense of dismay at the failure of central and state governments to submit requisite reports to the NHRC to facilitate remedial measures for the past, present and future victims. The States of Mizoram, Nagaland and the National Institute of Occupational Health Ahmedabad have submitted their reports. These reports should be examined at the earliest for relevant recommendations.  

While "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," its indifference towards NHRC's notice is surprising. It has noted that "Asbestosis is yet another occupational disease of the Lungs which is on an increase under similar circumstances warranting concerted efforts of all stake holders to evolve strategies to curb this menace". A concept paper by Union Ministry of Labour revealed this at the two-day 5th India-EU Joint Seminar on “Occupational Safety and Health” on 19th and 20th September, 2011. Reference: 

NHRC, while seeking their responses, had particularly drawn their attention the Supreme Court directions with regard to Para 16 of the Writ Petition, which are as follows: a) Ministry of Labour in the Union of India and Department of Industries and Labour in all the State Government shall ensure that the directions contained in the judgment of this Court in the case of Consumer Education and Research Centre (supra) are strictly adhered to; b) In terms of the above judgment of this Court as well as reasons stated in this judgment, we hereby direct the Union of India and the States to review safeguards in relation to primary as well as secondary exposure to asbestos keeping in mind the information supplied by the respective States in furtherance to the earlier judgment as well as fresh resolution passed by the ILO. 

The Commission had taken cognizance of TWA's complaint in June, 2011 wherein it estimated that about fifty thousand people die every year in the country due to asbestos related cancer. Citing contradictory position of the Government on the issue, the complainant had alleged that though the mining of asbestos was technically banned by the government, yet it allowed its import and that too from the countries which did not prefer its domestic use. It was also alleged that white asbestos is considered a hazardous chemical substance for environment by a number of countries in the world. However, it is being used in a number of industries in India affecting the workers employed their in. The Commission had given six months time for reports to the concerned authorities.

TWA has pointed out that Union Environment Ministry’s 19 page Vision Statement on Environment and Human Health (Para 4.3.1) on page 12 which reads: “Alternatives to asbestos may be used to the extent possible and use of asbestos may be phased out”. Reference: Environment Ministry’s website:

It is noteworthy that Justice N Dhinakar, the Kerala State Human Rights Commission (KSHRC) has  made three recommendations banning use of asbestos roofs in its order dated January 31, 2009. The recommendations are: “

a) The State Government will replace asbestos roofs of all school buildings under its control with country tiles in a phased manner.
b) The Government will take steps to see that the schools run under the private management also replace the asbestos roofs with country tiles by fixing a time frame.
c) The Government should see that in future no new school is allowed to commence its functions with asbestos roofs.” 

All State Human Rights Commissions can initiate steps to make their states asbestos free by taking cognisance of the above facts. 

Given the hazardous nature of the killer fibers of asbestos, states and citizens should boycott all asbestos based products. TWA appeals to the centre and the states to respond to NHRC's notice at the earliest in the interest of public health of present and future generations because safe and controlled use of all kinds of asbestos is impossible. SSV

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