Unhealthy decision?

A new bill on environment-related risks is rejected by the Delhi Assembly

Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

amid the controversy over the relocation of polluting industries, a private bill introduced in the Delhi Assembly on November 23, 2000, which aimed at protecting the city residents from environmental hazards, was rejected.

The Environmental Related Diseases (Prevention and Control) Bill, 2000, was introduced by former Delhi health minister Harsh Vardhan, but the present counterpart, A K Walia, felt that the present legislation was adequate and asked for the bill to be withdrawn. "The problem is not of the lack of rules and regulation, but implementation," he said.

Walia felt that the problem was due to civil bodies being answerable to the central government and not the Delhi government. Vardhan, however, believes that the reason for the bill's rejection is because "the government doesn't have any commitment towards health issues".

T K Joshi, project director, Centre for Occupational and Environmental Health, Lok Nayak Jaiprakash Hospital, New Delhi, feels that the present rules on environmental risks are contradictory and confusing. There is a need for a simple, but comprehensive act, which focuses specifically on the environment-related risks, he says.

The National Health Policy has a chapter on occupational hazards and though the time has already come to review it, very little has been done. According to Joshi, lack of awareness amongst the workers is shocking. Even simple precautions are not being adhered to.

The bill takes into consideration vector-borne diseases such as malaria, which is a direct consequence of bad environmental management; pollution-related risks such as lung infections; and occupational hazards. It also makes an attempt to empower the people about their "right to know" about hazardous wastes that surround them. According to Vardhan, unless the people know about the risks they are exposed to, they cannot take steps to protect themselves. It is now a well-known fact that a degraded environment can lead to the spread of many diseases.

The bill also aimed at providing a legal infrastructure, which would trigger a change in attitude in the people who either handle hazardous materials or make others handle them. If the worker is aware about the materials' toxicity, in case he or she contracts diseases, it is also easier for physicians to threat them, feels Vardhan.

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