Asbestos and Roro Villagers

*    Many elderly people in Roro village of Jharkhand have breathing disorders and other lung-related ailments. They allege that these are the after-effects of asbestos mining, which was stopped in the region almost four decades ago.

*    Asbestos mining is now banned in India but experts note that authorities failed to ensure scientific reclamation of the mine, leaving the local communities exposed to it.

*    In 2019, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) asked the Jharkhand government to ensure scientific removal of the dumped asbestos from such areas.

Mohan Sundi, 35, belongs to the Ho tribal community of a remote Roro village in the West Singhbhum district of Jharkhand. Roro is at the foothills of a mountain where one can see massive mounds of white or chrysolite asbestos dumped. This form of asbestos is used in building and other material but has significant health risks. Asbestos mining in the region stopped in 1983 – nearly four decades ago.

Then, in 1986, the Indian government banned giving new mining leases for asbestos mining and in 1993 it stopped the renewal of existing mining leases. The ban on asbestos mining was done in phases between 1986 to 1993.

But the after effects remain. Unaware of the health hazards, several generations of Roro’s residents have been exposed to the asbestos waste lying near the village and in 12 more adjoining villages. Mohan told this writer that during their childhood days, he and many others used to slide along the dumped asbestos without knowing the harm its exposure could cause to their health. Mohan, like many others in his village, migrates out for seasonal work. He worked at a theatre in Kerala and is now back home to Roro – and back to the ghost of the closed asbestos mine.

The village is still facing the effect of asbestos mining even after almost four decades of its closure in the area, he said. “My father has breathing disorders. There are many other elderly people who struggle to breathe. There are also cases of eye disorders and cancer in the village. The village has struggled a lot in the last few decades as many of the ailing patients were forced to visit Ranchi, Hyderabad, Delhi and other areas for treatment,” he said, while sitting in his courtyard where he had spread recently-plucked mahua for drying, which he would then sell in the local market.

The British Medical Journal in 1924 said that asbestos fibres are cancer-causing (carcinogenic). Asbestos is also found to trigger mesothelioma (a type of cancer) among the exposed workers and communities. Asbestos is a silicate compound found naturally in the environment and like in the case of Roro, the mining operations used to extract it from the hills which had a rich source of this compound. According to medical studies, once inhaled, the asbestos fibres remain on lung tissues for a longer period leading to scarring and inflammation which ultimately leads to difficulty in breathing.
Manish Kumar


Global Trade at Risk
The war in Ukraine has created immense human sufferings but it is also putting the fragile recovery of global trade at risk, and the impact will be felt across the planet, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) said recently.

World merchandise trade volume is expected to grow just 3 per cent this year, down from the previous forecast of 4.7 per cent, and 3.4 per cent in 2023, though these figures could be revised given the uncertainty surrounding the conflict.

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Vol 54, No. 44, May 1 - 7, 2022