Asbestos Profile: India
(Updated May 2018)
India's economic boom has generated an almost unquenchable thirst for building products. Between the years 2012 and 2016, asbestos consumption averaged over 365,000 tonnes per year, making it the world's biggest consumer. Historically most of the asbestos was imported but some, at times, as much as 30%, was locally sourced from dozens of small-scale mining operations. In 2005, the asbestos-cement industry was worth more than US$200 million [Indian Companies Flourish in Pro-Asbestos Climate]; at that time the industry was growing by 9% a year [Killing The Future Asbestos Use in Asia] [India’s Asbestos Time Bomb]. Although the high levels of occupational and environmental hazards created by the mining and processing of asbestos [Chrysotile in India: Truth Held Hostage, Canada’s Ugly Secret!] were documented, government agencies continued to support the industry through tax cuts [Indian Tax Breaks for Asbestos Producers] and lack of regulation. A booming industrial sector provided plenty of scope for political donations which ensured that the needs of asbestos stakeholders received a sympathetic hearing [see: Chrysotile Asbestos: Hazardous to Humans, Deadly to the Rotterdam Convention and India: Asbestos Deaths Mount as Production Expands, India’s Asbestos Time Bomb].
Asbestos stakeholders have used various means to control the national asbestos debate including sham "scientific conferences," propaganda masquerading as newspaper articles, legal threats to independent researchers and journalists, and the nobbling of government research [What Price the Truth?]. A blatant attempt to corrupt the scientific process was exposed by Madhumitta Dutta in the briefing paper: A Fox in the Hen House: Made-to-Order Science and India's Asbestos Policy.
Little was done to protect the 100,000 workers routinely exposed to asbestos in India and no assistance or support was forthcoming from the authorities for those whose lives had been blighted by such exposures [Asbestos-related Morbidity in India]. The health of people living close to sites contaminated by asbestos mining and processing was also at risk [The Blighted Hills of Roro, Jharkhand, India: A Tale of Corporate Greed and Abandonment]. There is no central mesothelioma (asbestos cancer) registry, no data collection on occupational disease, few trained pathologists and a shortage of trained occupational safety and health personnel.
Despite official and corporate obstruction, grass-roots activists have identified hundreds of asbestos victims from the mining industry, asbestos sector, power stations and ship-breaking yards and implemented protocols to secure medical assistance and financial compensation for them [Compensating Asbestosis Victims in Kolkata] [ Occupational Disease Outreach Project in India].
In 2004 and 2006, the Indian Government was one of 6 countries which blocked United Nations efforts to add chrysotile [Rotterdam Treaty Killed by Chrysotile] to the Prior Informed Consent list of the Rotterdam Convention; they did this in the face of the overwhelming support for action on chrysotile by the Rotterdam Secretariat and the member countries to the Convention. In the run-up to the October 2008 Conference of the Parties to the Rotterdam Convention, a monograph was published which foretells the devastating impact India's use of millions of tonnes of asbestos will have on its citizens and environment in the decades to come [see: India's Asbestos Time Bomb]. In 2011, India withdrew its veto on listing chrysotile on Annex III of the Rotterdam Convention; in 2013 it reversed this position and sided with Russia and other asbestos stakeholders to forestall any action being taken. [Rotterdam Convention 2013 - an Activist's Diary]. In 2015 and 2017 [Report from the Asbestos Frontline: Update from Geneva] [Asbestos Showdown in Geneva] India once again made common cause with countries blocking progress on asbestos.
Indian civil society is mounting a fight-back against the corrupting influence of asbestos companies which includes actions being taken in courts, in the streets and in the media. Grass-roots opposition to the expansion of asbestos production has resulted in protests by local people and their supporters in several states. [Asbestos Protests in India] [Escalation of Ban Asbestos Mobilization in India] [Indian Citizens Reject Asbestos] [Indian Ban Asbestos Network (IBAN) Established].
Asbestos outreach projects have been undertaken to raise public awareness of the hazards of asbestos exposure and to locate and support asbestos victims; these measures have included an asbestos medical diagnosis camp, asbestos class actions and information sessions. [Raising Asbestos Awareness in India] [Asbestos Outreach Project in India] [Mobilization on India's Asbestos Threat] [Huge Victory for Indian Workers] [OEHNI Letter to President of India] [India: National Asbestos Profile].
Updated May 2018