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Gujarat government "indifference" towards deadly asbestosis: State RTI watchdog castigates govt industries department

By Our Representative
Documents released by Gujarat's senior activists suggest that the state government, claiming to be No 1 in industrial investment, has remained highly indifferent to a major occupational diseases. The documents show that the has has not only not cared to take cognisance of the workers who suffer from the deadly asbestosis. Worse, it has refused to provide basic information on right to information (RTI) pleas seeking details of those who suffer from it.
Released by Occupational Health and Safety Association's (OSHA's) Raghunath Manwar, and People's Training and Research Centre's (PTRC's) Jagdish Patel, one of them is an order dated April 4, 2015, Gujarat's chief information commissioner Balwant Singh, who has castigated the Directorate of Industrial Safety and Health (DISH), Gujarat, for refusing to part with basic information concerning the safety and health of the labourers working in an industrial unit which uses asbestos as a raw material.
Singh says in the order, the state official concerned has been persistently reluctant in providing information. This raises the suspicion that "the authorities are deliberately not disclosing the information relating to the concerned industrial unit which apparently is not taking sufficient measures for the safety and health of the labourers."
While Gujarat's chief information commissioner imposed a fine of Rs 25,000 on the official who did not provide the information, the activists suggested, this is not an isolated case of official indifference towards asbestosis. 
A separate factsheet released by them, on the basis of separate RTI pleas with DISH, showed that none of the workers working in 40-odd industrial units working with asbestos, for which the data was sought, had been covered under the Employees' State Insurance Scheme (ESIS) to take care of the workers' health.
The factsheet dotted down the type of products these units want the workers to deal with -- gasket joint, gasket cloth, fire blanket asbestos, gland packaging, asbestos rope, asbestos roof sheets, asbestos cement pipes, and so on. 
A scan through the sheet suggests that they work in or around Gujarat's business capital, Ahmedabad's areas such as Ambavadi, Vadsar, Ranip, Odhav and Sanand; along the Jambusar-Vadodara Highway, Panoli and Vadodara proper in Central Gujarat; in Surat district; and at several places in Kutch district.
The activists pointed out, the Gujarat government "no information at any level about the number of workers who have so far suffered from asbestosis." Demanding an immediate ban to asbestos, which is imported from Russia, Brazil and Kazakhstan, the activists added tha while its use has gone up drastically in the country -- from 2.83 lakh tonnes in 2007 to 4.15 lakh tonnes in 2011 -- the activists said, "There is no data about its use in Gujarat."
They said, "To RTI queries, the state government merely provided details of just 657 workers working in small units and another 1,470 workers in big units working in industries where asbestosis is used in some form."
Wanting the Government of India to take steps to sign international convention to ban asbestos, known as Rotterdam convention, the activists regretted that the Centre, instead of relying on existing facts about asbestos, has wished to "study" the adverse impact of asbestos. 
Quoting expert studies, they insisted, "Prolonged inhalation of asbestos fibers can cause serious and fatal illnesses including malignant lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis (a type of pneumoconiosis)."
Giving details of the malignant mesothelioma, commonly develops in the lungs of people exposed to asbestos, the activists said, an RTI plea to the Gujarat Cancer and Research Institute, operating under state supervision, showed that as many as 108 have suffered from this extreme form of asbestosis. 
"The the institute refused to provide information of patients invoking specific clauses of the RTI law which disallows personal details", the activists said, adding, in their view, "the numbers should be much higher."

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