Skip to main content

Will India end this deadly trade? Swiss tycoon jailed for causing asbestos deaths

By Rosamma Thomas* 
Swiss billionaire Stephen Schmidheiny,73, was sentenced by an Italian court on June 7, 2023, to 12 years in jail for the deaths of 392 people from asbestos exposure. Schmidheiny ran the Eternit Italia factory at Casale Monferrato in Piedmont, the largest of his six factories, where asbestos was used to strengthen cement in the 1970s and 80s. Under Italian law, the owner of the factory rather than the firm is tried for the deaths of workers from a cause that relates to work.
Ban Asbestos Network India (BANI), in a press release on June 9, 2023, said the fate of Schmidheiny awaits those in India causing deaths by asbestos exposure. Eternit has plants in India as well, and even the new Parliament building in India is not asbestos-free, the press release said. On January 27, 1995, the Supreme Court of India in Consumer Education and Research Centre vs. Union of India had ruled that all asbestos factories in India must preserve health records of their workers for 40 years, or for 15 years after their retirement.
Stephen Schmidheiny had been awarded an honorary degree by Yale University, and the BANI called for the revocation of that honour. Foundations funded by the family of Schmidheiny had awarded the UN Secretary General and Infosys founder-chairman NR Narayana Murthy a freedom prize, and it is time these “tainted awards” were returned, the press note said.
India is now the world’s biggest asbestos consumer, importing from Russia, Brazil, Kazakhstan and other nations. Diseases caused by asbestos exposure have a long incubation period, and illness can result five decades after exposure. Even if the ban takes effect today, there will be people suffering from past usage, the press note mentioned.
Harminder Bains, whose father was among those who died from asbestos exposure, was on the team of lawyers that tasted victory in this case. “Eternit does have asbestos manufactories in India and is responsible for many asbestos related deaths,” she said. The UN has taken note of a study of the asbestos factory in Kymore, Katni, Madhya Pradesh, where asbestos dumping had contaminated soil and air. Eternit was a shareholder in five asbestos factories in India, and sold its shares ahead of the ban on asbestos in Belgium in 2011. It is ironic that Everest, the firm that currently runs the Kymore factory, takes up tobacco control as it Corporate Social Responsibility activity! Everest has factories in Nashik, Coimbatore, Roorkee and Kolkata.
Naval dockyards use asbestos for its fire insulation properties, and among those suffering as a result are people of the Indian Armed Forces, with long years of such exposure. The Indian Railways is currently engaged in the process of making stations asbestos free. The press note from BANI urges an immediate audit of the current status of victims of exposure; it has also suggested that medical colleges mandate instructions on how to treat victims of such exposure. Nearly 70 nations have so far banned asbestos. The press note states that many asbestos cement factories – the major use of asbestos in India is for cement – are owned by members of Parliament. India also does not record cases of mesothelioma, and the lack of data is presented as an absence of disease. There is a compelling logic of charging manufacturers with manslaughter, the press release noted.
*Freelance journalist



'Wedding of the century': What does Mukesh Ambani want to prove by such extravaganza?

By NS Venkataraman*  Mukesh  Ambani,   a renowned Indian industrialist who is said to be the richest person in India and  one of the richest persons in the world,   has just now conducted the wedding celebration of  his son in Mumbai,   with unheard level of lavishness in India.

A Hindu alternative to Valentine's Day? 'Shiv-Parvati was first love marriage in Universe'

By Rajiv Shah*   The other day, I was searching on Google a quote on Maha Shivratri which I wanted to send to someone, a confirmed Shiv Bhakt, quite close to me -- with an underlying message to act positively instead of being negative. On top of the search, I chanced upon an article in, imagine!, a Nashik Corporation site which offered me something very unusual. 

'Modi govt's assault on dissent': Foreign funds of top finance NGO blocked

By Rajiv Shah  In a surprise move, the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, has cancelled the foreign funding license of the well-known advocacy group, Centre for Financial Accountability (CFA), known for critically examining India's finance and banking sectors from human rights and environmental angle.

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

'28% rise in sedition cases': Top global NGO alliance rates India's civil space 'repressed'

By Rajiv Shah Rating India's civic space as repressed , Civicus, a global civil society alliance, in its new report submitted to the UN Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) on the state of civic space in the country has said that the use of sedition law against the Modi government’s critics continues. "Under the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, sedition cases have increased by 28 per cent with over 500 cases against more than 7,000 people", it says.

How US is using Tibetans to provoke conflict with China 'ignoring' India

By Lobsang Tenzin*  On July 12, US President Joe Biden signed the Resolve Tibet Act, and Tibetans cheered for it, believing that the law promotes a resolution of the dispute between Tibet and China. Is this true? First, let's look at the issue of the ownership of Tibet. 

Tribals from 60 villages observe seed festival to 'protect' diversity of indigenous seeds

By Bharat Dogra*  Nearly sixty villagers are sitting on an open floor covered by a roof for shade but otherwise open on all sides. Women and men are present in equal numbers but the visibility of women is higher because of their colorful dresses.

Over 3.8 billion animals at risk: India on crossroad in animal welfare practices

By Rupali Soni*  In a collaborative effort, the India Animal Fund and Dasra have unveiled their report , "Our Shared Future | Securing Animal Welfare, Human Wellbeing, and Sustainability in India." This landscape report provides a thorough overview of animal welfare and underscores its indispensable role within India's socio-economic and ecological frameworks. It also illustrates how animal welfare is intricately intertwined with public health, labor welfare, and climate resilience.

Maharashtra govt's proposed bill may be used against 'dissenting' journalists, writers, filmmakers, artists

Counterview Desk  The People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), Maharashtra, strongly objecting to what it calls “repressive and unconstitutional” Maharashtra Special Public Security Bill 2024, has demanded the proposed law be scrapped in its entirety. In its Statement of Objects and Reasons for the Bill, PUCL noted,  the broad and non-descript label of ‘urban naxal’ has been used, which is actually a “common slur used for any citizen who expresses their opposition to state policy or is not aligned with right-wing majoritarian views."