Industry Offensive in India 

by Laurie Kazan-Allen



Another day, another asbestos initiative. In January, 2003, news reached London that the Indian asbestos industry was promoting an asbestos conference in New Delhi. Their last one was, according to reports from India, a spectacular flop. The International Conference on Chrysotile Asbestos: "Strengthening Responsible Use," had been scheduled for November 22-24, 2000. It was widely believed that this event was a knee-jerk reaction to the Global Asbestos Congress, a landmark meeting which brought together hundreds of asbestos victims and anti-asbestos campaigners, in Brazil two months previously. The brochure for the industry meeting invited delegates:

"to attend the International Conference on CHRYSOTILE ASBESTOS to be held in New Delhi during 22-24 November, 2000. The theme of the conference is "STRENGHTENING RESPONSIBLE USE"… The conference is being organised on behalf of the Asbestos Information Centre (India), Asbestos Cement Products Manufacturer’s Association (India), Asbestos International Association (USA) and Asbestos Institute (Canada).

Information obtained on the new conference ( invites delegates:

"to attend the International Conference on Chrysotile Asbestos Cement Products to be held in New Delhi during 5-6 March, 2003. The theme of the Conference is ‘Chrysotile Asbestos Cement Products - Scientific Review on health and Environment Aspects and Economic Relevance.’ The Conference is being organized by the Chrysotile Asbestos Cement Products Manufacturers’ Association, New Delhi with active participation by the Ministry of Industry and Commerce, Ministry of Environment & Forests - Government of India, and Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), Asbestos Institute, Canada and Asbestos International Association - USA."

It is illuminating to study the difference in these two extracts:

Subject Conference in 2000 Conference in 2003
conference on Chrysotile
conference on Chrysotile Asbestos Cement Products
Strengthening Responsible Use
Scientific Review on Health and Environment Aspects and Economic Relevance
Asbestos Information Centre (India);
Asbestos Cement Products Manufacturer’s Assn. (India);
Asbestos International Assn. (USA);
Asbestos Institute (Canada).
Chrysotile Asbestos Cement Product Manufacturers’ Assn.
Ministry of Industry and Commerce;
Ministry of Environmental & Forests;
Confederation of Indian Industry;
Asbestos Institute (Canada);
Asbestos International Assn. (USA).

Clearly, the pro-industry groups are trying to apply the lessons from last time. By narrowing the focus to asbestos cement and placing it within a quasi-scientific context: "Scientific Review on Health," they hope to legitimise their propaganda. Obtaining the involvement of Government Ministries further obscures the real motives behind this exercise. As an advisor to the South African Government said: "It was my perception and that of others that it (the conference) has the blessing of the government of India. The perception may have been created deliberately… I think it is a very concerted effort to continue the use of asbestos in less industrialised countries."

The conference literature reassures prospective delegates that there is no "occupational health problem" in the Indian asbestos cement sector and offers participants the opportunity to "share their experience internationally on this focused subject of Safe and Responsible use of Chrysotile Fibers in manufacture and usage of Chrysotile Cement Products, their usefulness and related health environment matters." It is doubtful whether members of Ban Asbestos India (BANI), a campaigning group which was set up last year, would be welcomed to "share their experience" with conference delegates; neither would Dr. T K Joshi, national consultant to the World Health Organisation at Lok Nayak Hospital (New Delhi), a Fellow of the prestigious Collegium Ramazzini and a Member of the Research Advisory Group of the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests. In 2002, Dr. Joshi published a paper: Precautionary Principle and Need to Ban all Forms of Asbestos Use in India. He wrote:

"Asbestos exposure is causing a ‘Disaster in Slow Motion’ but is not visible as no proper records are available, and enforcement remains week. It is doubtful if the policy makers, and those defending asbestos due to their own interest as well as most of us, will be around 30 or 40 years later when India may be inundated by an epidemic of mesothelioma and lung cancer in consequence to asbestos exposure (read chrysotile) taking place today…

There is a great responsibility on all of us, and on IAOH (Indian Association of Occupational Health) in particular. We must ask the policy makers to invoke the precautionary principle and ban all forms of asbestos use in India. If we do not act now, asbestos exposure will claim many times more lives than the Methyl Isocynate exposure in Bhopal in 1984."


February 13, 2003



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