Most of the authorities at Centre and States/UTs fail to give reports to the NHRC on safeguarding exposure to asbestos

New Delhi, June 5th, 2012

Most of the authorities in Centre and Sates/Union Territories have failed to submit requisite reports to the NHRC on safeguards they have put in place relating to exposure to asbestos. Only the States of Mizoram, Nagaland and the National Institute of Occupational Health Ahmedabad have submitted the reports. Therefore, the Commission on the 21st May, 2012 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. The Commission had asked them to share with it the information on the action taken by them with regard to the Supreme Court judgment dated the 21st January, 2011 in Writ Petition (Civil) No. 260 of 2004 on exposure to asbestos.

The Commission, 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 a complaint in July, 2011 alleging that about fifty thousand people die every year in the country due to asbestos related cancer. 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. The white asbestos is a fibrous material used for building roofs and walls and various in other forms.

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. On the 5th March, 2012, they were given six weeks more time when most of them failed to give the requisite reports.