Sixth Conference of Parties (CoP-6) of UN’s Rotterdam Convention, Geneva : Government Betrayal Must Be Investigated

The Indian delegation was joined by supporters of the asbestos industry. As a result, Government representatives take a position against human health and the environment and put the profit of the asbestos industry before gnawing public health concerns. It is reliably learnt that officials and scientists who go to such UN meetings feel humiliated when industry representatives give them directions instead of senior Government officials or Ministers…


government-betrayal-must-beA letter from the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) reveals that the Indian delegation led by Shri Ajay Tyagi, currently Chairman, Central Pollution Control Board was misguided by a note of the Department of Chemicals and Petrochemicals (DCPC), Union Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers. This led to misrepresentation of the Government of India’s position on hazardous substance chrysotile asbestos at the Sixth Conference of Parties of (CoP-6) of UN’s Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade held during April 28-May 10, 2013 in Switzerland.
ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA), a research and advocacy group, had written to the Ministry of Environment and Forests registering its strong objection to the Indian delegation’s position which was/is inconsistent with domestic laws. In its reply to TWA, MoEF has sent a 7 page long note of the DCPC on the subject of Chrysotile Asbestos titled ‘Department of Chemicals and Petrochemicals’ View on the use of Chrysotile Asbestos” in the country’. TWA has sent a letter to India’s focal point for Rotterdam Convention, Dr. Ajay Vara Prasad, Joint Secretary, DCPC pointing out flaws in its note.
MoEF’s contention based DCPC’s note stating that “On the basis of the said note, the listing of Chrysotile Asbestos under Annex ‘A’ of Rotterdam Convention at CoP-6 during April 28th -May 10th 2013 at Geneva could not be supported” unless revised remains misplaced. This note of the ‘line department’, i.e. Department of Chemicals and Petrochemicals (DCPC), Union Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers on the subject of chrysotile asbestos is totally illogical.
The note of the DCPC reveals that it has failed to understand the purpose of the Rotterdam Convention and ignorance about the objective of the Convention.
As per Article 1 of the Rotterdam Convention reads: “The objective of this Convention is to promote shared responsibility and cooperative efforts among Parties in the international trade of certain hazardous chemicals in order to protect human health and the environment from potential harm and to contribute to their environmentally sound use, by facilitating information exchange about their characteristics, by providing for a national decision-making process on their import and export and by disseminating these decisions to Parties.”
The note is irrelevant from the point of view of the objective of the Convention for which it was prepared. While one disagrees with the findings of the conflict of interest ridden study conducted by the National Institute of Occupational Health, (NIOH), it is evident that even this study does not state that chrysotile asbestos is not a hazardous chemical. Had the NIOH study concluded that Chrysotile Asbestos is not a hazardous chemical it may have become relevant. But even then it would have been legally unsustainable because under Indian laws chrysotile asbestos is a hazardous chemical.
TWA has expressed its strong disagreement with the concluding sentence of the DCPC’s note saying, “In view of the above, India may take a stand in the next CoP meeting of Rotterdam Convention for non inclusion of chrysotile asbestos in Annexure-III of Convention. The flawed conclusion of the note titled ‘Department of Chemicals and Petrochemicals’ View on the use of Chrysotile Asbestos” in the country’ is quite stark and will not stand scrutiny of logic.
At the first meeting, the Chemical Review Committee (CRC) under the Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent (PIC) Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade, the committee agreed to recommend to the Conference of the Parties that Chrysotile Asbestos should be listed in Annex III of the Rotterdam Convention. The CRC is a group of Government designated experts established in line with Article 18 of the Convention that evaluates candidate chemicals for possible inclusion in the Convention. Chrysotile (serpentine forms of asbestos) is included in the PIC procedure as an industrial chemical. But DCPC’s note does not absolve the Indian delegation to CoP-6 because asbestos is listed as a hazardous substance under Part II of Schedule-I of the Manufacture, Storage and Import of Hazardous Chemical Rules, 1989 under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 provides the List of Hazardous and Toxic Chemicals. This list has 429 chemicals. Asbestos is at serial no. 28 in the list. This Rule and the list is available on the website of Union Ministry of Environment & Forests. Its url is: http://envfor.nic.in/legis/hsm/hsm2.html
http://envfor.nic.in/legis/hsm/hsm2sch1.html
The Indian delegation comprised of Shri Ajay Tyagi, Joint Secretary Ministry of Environment and Forests, Ms. Chhanda Chowdhury, Director, Hazardous Substances Management Division, Ministry of Environment and Forests, Mr. Ram Niwas Jindal, Additional Director, Hazardous Substances Management Division, Ministry of Environment and Forests and Mr. Vinod Babu Bommathula, Scientist-D & In-Charge, Central Pollution Control Board, Ministry of Environment besides asbestos industry lobbyists like Mr. Abhaya Shankar, Chairman, Asbestos Cement Products Manufacturers’ Association and Vivek Chandra Rao Sripalle, Director, Safety Health and Environment, Asbestos Cement Products Manufacturers’ Association. The industry’s influence on the delegation’s stance is quite manifest.
It also merits attention as to whether the industry representatives went to this UN conference on their own expense or as a Government sponsored their visit. Asbestos Cement Products Manufacturers’ Association (ACPMA) which accompanied the delegation is facing a probe by Competition Commission of India (CCI) after a reference from the Serious Fraud Investigation Office (SFIO). CCI has said in its quarterly newsletter that “The market of asbestos cement sheets consists of 20 big firms and 68 manufacturing units, of which top six players hold 87 per cent of the market share”. The newsletter is available at: http://www.cci.gov.in/Newsletter/Newsletter_Dec.pdf
Had ACPMA not overwhelmed the DCPC and Indian delegation, the Indian position would have been in keeping with its ‘Inventory of Hazardous Chemicals Import in India’ that lists ‘asbestos’ at serial no. 26 as one of the 180 hazardous chemicals in international trade which is imported in India. This inventory was prepared by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), under the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India in September, 2008 with a foreword ( September 24, 2008) by Shri J. M. Mauskar, the then Chairman, CPCB and Additional Secretary, Union Ministry of Environment and Forests. This was done in pursuance of Government of India’s “Manufacture, Storage, and Import of Hazardous Chemicals (MSIHC) Rules, 1989” under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. According to these Rules, any person responsible for importing hazardous chemicals in India is to provide the data of import to the concerned authorities, as identified in Column 2 of Schedule 5 to the Rules. The CPCB “has been identified as one of such Authorities. In order to study the inventory of Hazardous Chemicals being imported by various categories of industrial units in India, the data provided by these industrial units to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) have been compiled.” It is scandalous as to why the Indian delegation took a position inconsistent with the Manufacture, Storage, and Import of Hazardous Chemicals (MSIHC) Rules, 1989.
Even under Factories Act, 1948, the List of 29 industries involving hazardous processes is given under Section 2 (cb), Schedule First, asbestos is mentioned at serial no. 24. The Act defines “hazardous process” as “any process or activity in relation to an industry specified in the First Schedule where, unless special care is taken, raw materials used therein or the intermediate or finished products, bye-products, wastes or effluents thereof would–(i) cause material impairment to the health of the persons engaged in or connected therewith, or (ii) result in the pollution of the general environment”. This leaves no doubt that asbestos is a hazardous substance. The Act is available at:
http://labour.nic.in/upload/uploadfiles/files/ActsandRules/Service_and_Employment/The%20Factories%20Act,%201948.pdf
The Indian delegation was joined by supporters of the asbestos industry. As a result, Government representatives take a position against human health and the environment and put the profit of the asbestos industry before gnawing public health concerns.
Earlier, on June 22, 2011 Indian delegation led by Ms. Mira Mehrishi, Additional Secretary, had supported the listing of Chrysotile asbestos as a hazardous chemical substance at the fifth meeting on Rotterdam Convention amidst standing ovation. This about turn at the behest of DCPC under the influence of ACPMA is a sad let down.
It is reliably learnt that officials and scientists who go to such UN meetings feel humiliated when industry representatives give them directions instead of senior Government officials or Ministers. The UN meet on hazardous chemicals creates a rationale for insulating Government officials from undue and motivated industry influence else they will be obliged to act like parrots. I urge you to factor in the far reaching implications for public health before defending the indefensible hazardous asbestos industry. The day is not far when members of DCPC too will be held liable for their acts of omission and commission as is happening in more than 50 countries that have banned all kinds of asbestos.
In keeping with Indian laws, when the UN’s Chemical Review Committee of Rotterdam Convention recommended listing of white chrysotile asbestos as hazardous substance, it is incomprehensible why the Indian delegation opposed its inclusion in the UN list. The only explanation appears to be the fact that the Indian Government delegation did not have a position independent of the asbestos industry’s position which has covered up and denied the scientific evidence that all asbestos can cause disease and death.
It may be noted that an Advisory Committee of the Union Ministry of Labour has been set up to implement Supreme Court order issued 15 years ago on January 27, 1995 and repeated on January 23, 2012. Although more than 1 year and four months have passed but the Advisory Committee headed by A C Pandey, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Labour is yet to submit its report to incorporate specific directions of the Court with regard to fresh ILO’s Resolution of June 14, 2006 introducing a ban on all mining, manufacture, recycling and use of all forms of asbestos. The influence of the industry is apprehended to be cause of this delay.
Industry-funded studies showed a causal relationship between asbestos exposure and cancer. Had this been made known to the public it could have prevented countless deaths but the asbestos industry made the conscious decision to protect their profits instead and choose to keep this information hidden from the public.India’s asbestos industry is following the same path. As a consequence, although millions of Indian lives are being lost and millions are being exposed to the killer fibers of white chrysotile asbestos, no Government agency or company is being held liable due to political patronage.
The million dollar question is as to how come what is poisonous and hazardous within India can be deemed by MoEF under the influence of DCPC and ACPMA at the conference of Parties of Rotterdam Convention as non-poisonous and non-hazardous. The Ministry must revise its untenable position to avoid appearing ridiculous before the international community. DCPC may consider an internal inquiry to ascertain how was the conclusion of its note on chrysotile asbestos andRotterdam Convention arrived at. DCPC’s note must be revised and communicated to MoEF so that it reverses its position at the next CoP of the RotterdamConvention.
DCPC has a legal and moral responsibility to recall its legally and logically unsustainable note to the MoEF and save India’s reputation among the comity of nations by being consistent with domestic laws when representing the country in international legal negotiations.

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