Bihar’s deputy chief minister, Sushil Modi, who also holds the portfolio of forest and environment ministry, has been accused of misleading the state Assembly on the health hazards of asbestos.
MLA Sanjay Singh (Tiger) had posed a question regarding health hazards of asbestos factories during the Assembly session that concluded last week. In his reply given on March 25, Modi cited a Supreme Court judgement and added, “So far there has been no study in the country to establish this fact in a credible manner.”
The reply is allegedly contradicts the Supreme Court judgement. In its judgement dated January 21, 2011, in writ petition (civil) number 260 of 2004 referred to its directions of January 27, 1995 that are required to be strictly adhered to, including International Labour Organisation (ILO) resolution on asbestos of June 14, 2006.
Gopal Krishna, convener of Toxic Watch Alliance, alleged that Modi has wrongly quoted the Supreme Court judgement, and consequently misled the entire House. “The apex court in the judgement clearly took into consideration the recommendations of WHO and ILO on asbestos. And it clearly states that asbestos mining and production leads to hazardous diseases,” he said.
Activists are also questioning the state environment minister's competence in understanding serious environmental issues. "If the environment minister is not able to comprehend the court order then he has no business handling the crucial environment portfolio," Krishna added.
Earlier, senior BJP leaders Sushma Swaraj and former Union health minister C P Thakur had cited a study by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) in Parliament and had accepted that long-term exposure to asbestos leads to mesothelomia, asbestosis and lung cancer.
Singh, a legislator from Sandesh in Ara district, belongs to the ruling NDA coalition in Bihar. Furious over Modi’s misleading remarks, he intends to take up the matter with the speaker of the Assembly.
“I have been regularly harping that the state should take a correct and serious stand on asbestos. It’s unfortunate that Modi who holds such a crucial post has given a misleading reply,” Singh said. The legislator was also a member of the joint committee on asbestos hazards. For the last few years, he has been advocating the formation of a regulatory body to oversee the setting up of asbestos plants in the state.
Senior BJP functionaries are maintaining contradictory views on asbestos. Modi’s reply to the state assembly directly contradicts the views of Swaraj and Thakur expressed in Parliament. The chief minister, Nitish Kumar, too, had recently assured the delegation from Khet Bachao Jeevan Bachao Jan Sangharsh Committee (KBJBJC) that the concerns regarding the Utkal Asbestos Limited (UAL) plant in Hajipur would be considered seriously.
“The chief minister had personally instructed the chairperson of the Bihar state pollution control board to review its no objection certificate given to UAL,” Ajit Kumar, convener of KBJBJC said.
Down To Earth tried to contact Modi, but despite repeated attempts the minister refused to take the call.