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The Asbestos Shame in India #enviornment

By Rohit roy,  kindlemag.in

A slow and painful death is creeping through the nation. Asbestos – the essential roofing of the poor – is a silent and deadly killer. It causes lung cancer, and asbestosis through a slow filling of the lungs with dust, leading to a painful existence and eventual death. The WHO estimates that more than 100,000 people die each year of asbestos related diseases. Yet, walk around any village or town (or even our cities) and an elevated view will reveal a sea of corrugated asbestos sheeting.

  The most vulnerable are those working in factories handling asbestos, but it also affects people using asbestos in their homes as a cheap substitute for roofing materials. In most cases this is a common demographic. The poor need asbestos and the poor work with asbestos. The poor are also silent sufferers.

The deadly nature of asbestos is common knowledge in the developed world. Several nations have completely banned the use of the material, most notably of the EU, Japan and Australia. In the late 90s, the European Commission and Canada even had a standoff at the WTO regarding France’s ban on asbestos products.

Weirdly, is another country where the use of asbestos is banned. The Canadian government has spent vast amounts of money to remove the material from its . Yet, in the international trade of asbestos, the hypocrisy of the Canadian government is absolutely criminal. Canada is one of the world’s larger exporters of this deadly material and its clientele consists mostly of developing nations like India. It would seem that, to the Canadian government, consideration for human life is limited only to its own people, and international responsibility is but a farcical concept.

Yet, why blame a foreign government that is looking out for its businesses when our government is shockingly apathetic to the welfare of its own people? One of the excuses, used by Canada, to justify asbestos export is that it is legal in . One, then, wonders why a material, which is so comprehensively vilified in international markets, is still allowed to flourish in such alarming quantities and with so little regulation, in a country where income differences and an uncontrollable population, increases the associated risks manifold.

Very few people in India are aware of the dangers stemming from asbestos use. Asbestos regulation is, at best, pretence. Factories are under-regulated and health and safety norms are hardly implemented, regularly flouted or at times even non-existent. Stories have emerged of abandoned open mines seriously affecting the population of surrounding villages. Rural doctors are so ill-informed about the effects of asbestos that villagers are very often misdiagnosed. Even in cities, factory workers and families have alarming experiences of deteriorating health conditions and death.

Why is the government not doing anything? Has it now come to the point where even a full blown catastrophe cannot motivate it to take action? Is this again a case of government incompetence that we Indians are so used to, or is there a more sinister reason behind the silence and ignorance? Mining lobbies and the mining mafia come to mind. Given the recent incidents concerning the mining mafia in the country, it is not a big leap of imagination, to think there is big money being made at the expense of the expendable poor.

The proliferation of asbestos use is not just an environmental hazard. It is also nothing short of a human rights violation. To knowingly allow the use of a material, that regularly kills millions, is criminal negligence. To allow our country to be used as a dumping ground for such materials, by other nations, is shameful. But most importantly, to watch our people die of a preventable cause and do nothing about it is a heinous crime worthy of comparisons to the Holocaust.

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Comment (1)

  1. Basab Ghosh

    It is good to see someone in India is trying to raise awareness about this silent killer. USA is one of the countries it is banned in. American Engineering companies are even restricted from specifying in any project that they engineer and / or build. In mid 90’s, as a part of an American MNC when we refused to specify Asbestos sheeting in a prestigious Indian project, the client quietly took away the scope from us and gave the work to an Indian company who had no qualms about specifying Asbestos sheeting. The Government has to act by banning manufacture of Asbestos products as well as restricting Indian companies from specifying it’s use in construction. They should also remove all related Indian Standards, because that gives legitimacy to the product.

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