These factories do not exist in government records. Nor do they figure in the lists of pollution control boards or other regulatory bodies. Even as they have mushroomed in small towns, they are also sprouting in the dark bylanes of congested localities in large cities. They function from one or two-roomed quarters and employ five to 10 labourers. Covered from head to toe in toxic dust, these unwary workers go about their job oblivious of the fact that they are breathing death in lungfuls. This is the ugly face of the unorganised small-scale asbestos manufacturing industry.
Occupational exposure to asbestos occurs during mining operations too. Till a few years back, asbestos was mined in Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Rajasthan. But after the ban on extension of leases, mining activity in Andhra came to a halt. In Rajasthan, however, illegal mining continues unabated (see box: Ground reality).
It is ironic that though the Union ministry of environment and forests (mef) had set up the Rajagopalan Committee in August 2001 to formulate a comprehensive policy on asbestos and the industry dependent on it, no guidelines are in sight as yet. Consequently, the much-needed fresh set of regulations related to asbestos hangs fire. And controversy clouds the entire gamut of issues pertaining to it