Asbestos Issues in India: Interview with Lisa Singh
Laurie Kazan-Allen (LKA): IBAS understands you have recently returned from a fact-finding trip to India; can you update us about the asbestos element of your mission?
Australian Senator Lisa Singh (LS): While I was in India, on July 18 I met with trade unionists and civil society activists in New Delhi to discuss health and safety issues facing Indian people working with asbestos.
LKA: Can you inform us about the nature of the conversations?
LS: I was inspired to hear about the efforts of the Mine Labour Protection Campaign to seek compensation for former asbestos miners in Rajasthan. I was amazed to hear from their CEO Rana Sengupta that no medical records had been kept, that there was no data collection of asbestos sufferers and that they had to undergo that process over a long period to prove the effects of asbestos on local people to the authorities. Clearly activists in India are still having to fight to prove that asbestos kills. This is incredible when the WHO and the ILO and other international bodies have all said asbestos is a carcinogen.1 I informed Mr. Sengupta about the activities Australia holds as part of asbestos awareness week in November each year and we discussed how we could work collaboratively on raising awareness with colleagues in India.
Rana Sengupta and Lisa Singh.
My meeting with 23 activist and trade union leaders was equally inspiring, especially when I heard that they had been campaigning since the 1980s. There is so much going on at a grass roots level and at political level. Mohit Gupta from the Occupational and Environmental Network in India spoke passionately about the lack of political will and how an Indian life should be valued the same as any other. Thus, this is really a question about humanity. Yet the subsidies and reduction in tariffs to allow asbestos to be imported from Canada all points to India not really being serious about acknowledging the asbestos hazard. The asbestos industry in India is worth U.S. $900 million and currently has over 121 units operational all over India with 300,000 metric tonnes of asbestos used each year.
LKA: Clearly the situation in India is incredibly complex with many challenges. Did you hear of any success stories?
LS: Indeed I did. Whilst I was there a small victory occurred in a village in Orissa State where locals had been able to rally support against the construction of a factory manufacturing asbestos-cement sheeting. As more and more people are beginning to understand the deadly effects of asbestos, more protests are being mounted in other states.
Whilst it is good to know that India banned asbestos mining in 1986, it is unconscionable that the importing, manufacturing, use and sale of asbestos products continue to grow. All forms and use of asbestos should be banned. India can learn from developed countries such as Australia and EU nations which have implemented a total ban because of the shocking health effects asbestos has on people and the thousands of lives it takes each year.
LKA: Of course, you have heard by now that the Quebec government is providing $58 million for new asbestos mine which will export hundreds of thousands of tonnes to India in the future? Your thoughts?
LS: I don't believe for one minute that the Canadian and Indian governments do not know that chrysotile asbestos is a killer. Of course they do. This is about industry-led pressure on governments. It's like big tobacco all over again. As an Australian politician and as a concerned citizen we cannot allow more generations to die from avoidable asbestos-related deaths. I intend to continue putting pressure on my government to take the lead in the global campaign to ban asbestos.2
July 26, 2012
2 For background material on Ms. Singh's involvement with asbestos issues see:
Kazan-Allen L. Confronting Australia's Asbestos Tragedy. April 10, 2012.
Kazan-Allen L. Australia Confronts Asbestos Disaster. November 20, 2012.
Kazan-Allen L. Asbestos-free Australia by 2030! September 19, 2009.