The decision on whether to allow asbestos-laden Clemenceau to be broken down in Alang, Gujarat, is no longer ours to take. But the controversy should be used to give a fillip to tightening the rules and sealing the long-overdue policy on occupational safety in India's factories.india Updated: Feb 20, 2006 00:16 IST
The decision on whether to allow asbestos-laden Clemenceau to be broken down in Alang, Gujarat, is no longer ours to take. But the controversy should be used to give a fillip to tightening the rules and sealing the long-overdue policy on occupational safety in India's factories. That a policy on handling such issues languishes in its draft form is proof enough of the low priority that workplace safety of millions of faceless labour force has for industry and government.
While asbestos is a known health hazard, there is very little public awareness of its toxicity. Although since 2001, there's been talk of imposing a ban on the use of asbestos, the issue remains confined to health and environmental summits. In spite of efforts to limit the issuance of asbestos mining licences and the resolve of the Indian Association of Occupational Health (IAOH), mining and production units continue to be set up. Even today, villages are replacing thatched roofs with asbestos sheets. It makes a cost-effective alternative to steel pipes in construction and is most common as water supply pipes.
Inhalation of asbestos dust causes irreversible damage also being carcinogenic. Its production is banned in 22 countries. But in India, consumption of asbestos is growing and more than 100,000 persons, many of them women, face this hazard at the workplace. But health hazards have to be balanced with economics. India tops the list of ship-breaking nations and thousands depend on it for their livelihood. The stress has to be on introducing new technology to make the labour-intensive stripping operation safe. Strictly monitored safety standards and compliance with the Supreme Court guidelines can be a small, but crucial, beginning.
The Clemenceau controversy shouldn't be allowed to be hijacked by activists or lobbyists. Not often do worker safety concerns jostle governments (the Left clearly didn't see red on this issue). It would be a tragedy if nothing is done about it. There's no harm in being home to a graveyard of ships, so long as these aren't graveyards for the ship-breakers.