White faced

  • 14/08/2004

with the global movement against asbestos gaining momentum, India could hardly remain unaffected. The Supreme Court issued notices to the Union government and all states and union territories on July 12, 2004, asking them to clear their position regarding the import, manufacture and use of the mineral fibre. Only a few days ago the Union finance minister had, in the country's annual budget, announced a cut in the customs duty on asbestos to 15 per cent.

The notices were issued in response to a public interest litigation (pil) filed by a Kolkata-based non-governmental organisation (ngo), Kalyaneshwari, seeking a ban on asbestos in India due to its carcinogenic effects. The pil claims the number of asbestos victims (occupational and non-occupational) in India has risen by 12 per cent per annum.

India consumes more than 125,000 metric tonnes of asbestos annually. "White asbestos continues to be used in India, though other kinds, such as blue and brown, are banned. Successive governments have promoted this killer mineral fibre disregarding public health. In contrast, industrialised countries keep away from it,' laments Gopal Krishna of Toxics Link, a New Delhi-based ngo. Canada, Russia and Zimbabwe continue to dump white asbestos in India. As per data from the Union ministry of commerce, the country imported Rs 230 crore worth of asbestos during 2002-03.

Increasing number of countries have banned asbestos since last year, South Africa being the latest (see

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