Taking cognizance of a complaint alleging that about fifty thousand people die every year in the country due to Asbestos related cancer, National Human Rights Commission has issued notices to the Secretaries of Ministries of Chemical Fertilizers, Environment and Forest, Health and Family Welfare, Industry and Commerce, Labour and Chief Secretaries of all the States/Union Territories calling for status reports within four weeks on the issues raised in the complaint.
Gopal Krishna of Toxics Watch Alliance, the complainant, had 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. White asbestos, a commonly used construction material is said to be carcinogenic. Most of the roofs and walls in Indian homes are built with it. It is being used in a number of industries in India affecting the health of the workers employed there.
Krishna says, “A lot remains to be done. There is no single town or village in India, which is asbestos free. The government will have to develop infrastructure and competence to decontamination of the structures where asbestos has been used. They will have to make new policies for granting compensation packages for present and future victims of asbestos diseases.”
Fifty-five countries across the world have banned asbestos and people in the US are suing builders for billions of dollars for health problems caused by exposure to asbestos. Krishna says, “In many countries, it is considered hazardous chemical substance for environment.”
In India, it is being used as a sturdy, waterproof, fire retardant material that can be bought for as low as Rs 250 per sheet, making it the poor man’s delight. It is the fibrous mineral which constantly sheds particles that cause irreversible damage to the lungs, and even trigger dangerous cancers when inhaled continuously. The Government of India has technically banned its mining but they allow its import from other countries which do not prefer its domestic use.
Before this NHRC had banned the use of endosulphan, an insecticide, based on independent studies which confirmed that its commercial utility was far outweighed by the great harm it caused to human health, to flora and fauna, and to the environment.