“I will not put Canadian industry in a position where it is discriminated against in a market where sale is permitted.” That was the Canadian PM Mr.Stephen Harper talking about exports of asbestos to developing countries. India consumes approx 350,000 metric tons of asbestos each year and growing. The industry generates more than 4 Lakh crores a year in revenue, and directly employs 3 lakh people; indirectly, it supports as many as 30 Lakh’s more. In Canada it employs less then 3000 people and is valued at 525 Crores.
Asbestos roofing across Towns, Cities and villages across India is a common sight. There are other uses of asbestos. Asbestos is used as a binder in cement, as insulation, and in anti-fire walls.It is also used in brake linings in cars and in Textiles. Before it gets it final shape, asbestos is a thin fine fibrous material that has to be processed. The problem starts here.If the fibrous stage of asbestos is inhaled by laborers it can cause serious illnesses, including malignant lung cancer, mesothelioma (a formerly rare cancer strongly associated with exposure to amphibole asbestos), and asbestosis (a type of pneumoconiosis). For this reason almost all western countries have banned its use. At the end of the life of the asbestos roofing it disintegrates releasing the fibres again in the air.
Now comes the law of supply and demand. Lesser the supply more the demand. In this case we are talking about Human beings. They are proportionately less in number in western countries. Which means supply is less. So human beings who inhabit these areas are more valuable then Human beings who inhabit in denser populated areas like India. Which means life can be categorized as cheap in India and it is okay to export asbestos to India, even if it is harmful.
But who is exposed to Asbestos any way? It is neither the rich, nor the middle class nor the political class of India. It is the average poor man or in other words the dalit whose “welfare”is the subject & livelihood of many internationalist organizations. Not only does the poverty stricken laborer works with raw asbestos but since asbestos stays dormant in the lungs for 50 years, the laborer has a guarantee of disease as he ages. Talk about retirement plans of the poor.
The players on both sides of the Border
Asbestos Mining Industry: Mostly based
in the Quebec province and spear headed (ironically)
by an NRI Indian Mr.Baljit Chadha.
The asbestos cement manufacturing association of India.15
major manufactures including big names like Birla, Ramco.
Canadian Government (Represented by The Chrysotile Institute):
This institute is funded by the Government of Canada,
and does the role of promoting Canadian Interests.
Ministries of Health,
Industry & Commerce.
How it works: The guys on the Canadian side join hands with the guys on the Indian side and both work as a team to facilitate this export / import business. Huge amounts are spent on lobbying (Euphemism for buying favours with money and material benefits) on both sides of the border. To facilitate the whole thing scientific evidence in bought into picture. A visit to the acpma.com shows lot of “reserach material” about asbestos. That reasearch has impressive names and credentials. Acpma uses that as evidence in support of the continued use of asbestos. Guess who those authors are. They are mostly from The Chrysotile Institute. If Chrysotile institute strongly believes that asbestos is good then it should be working to revoke the ban on use of asbestos in Canada? For record The Canadian Cancer Society says the export contributes to a cancer epidemic that kills 90,000 people around the world each year.
Main stream media’s response:Major news media in Canada, like the Toronto Star, The Globe and mail have reported widely about this. They have urged Canada to ban its exports. We however do not see the main stream media in India being concerned about it. They are more concerned about bashing India’s culture while ignoring the health concerns of its people. It is really ironical, that the media of the exporting country is concious the damage its exports are causing, while the media of the importing country where the damage is actually caused is silent. The work of NGO’s like BANI in this regard is really commendable.
So what is the solution? For reasons of loss of jobs, cheap roofing, and the fact that big players are knee deep into it, the use of asbestos will not be banned in India. So is there an alternative to asbestos? Why will any one want to develop an alternative to asbestos with so much money at stake in it. With 1 Billion + population, no one really cares if a couple of lakhs of lives are lost with exposure to asbestos. The attitude of the Indian government resonates with the bomb blasts in Delhi and Mumbai. A few more lives lost, India can handle it right. And if India does not care why would Canada care?
Wonder what the Prime Minister of India has to say about it! (As we write this he was advising Mr.Advani not to use harsh words in relation to the political battle in India)
The least the export Industry of Canada can do is to
ship safety equipment for use by the Indian workers
along with its exports of asbestos to India.