Taking cognizance of non compliance with recommendations of IMC, UN and SC order on shipbreaking, Gopal Krishna, an environmental activist and public policy analyst, writes to chief of Inter-Ministerial Committee on Shipbreaking.
Hazardous actvity like shipbreaking has a negative impact on coastal environment and biodiversity, causing adverse effects on the individuals working in this sector or living close to places where such activities take place.
Please find below the full text of the letter:
Shri S. Machendranathan,
Chairman, Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC) on Shipbreaking,
Union Ministry of Steel,
Government of India
Date: 28 February, 2012
Subject-Non-compliance with Recommendations of IMC, UN & SC Order on Shipbreaking
This is with reference to today’s meeting of the Inter-ministerial Committee (IMC) on Shipbreaking and pursuant o my earlier communications, I wish to draw your attention towards non-compliance of IMC\\\’s recommendations, Supreme Court Order and a letter received by Union Ministry of Shipping in the matter of ship breaking from Shri Rajgopal Sharma, Advisor, Indian Embassy, Brussels dated December 22, 2011. I wish to inform that Parliamentary Standing Committee on Transport, Tourism and Culture is also examining the matter.
I have gone through all the minutes of IMC which are uploaded on steel ministry\\\’s website. I have gathered from the deliberations and letter sent to the steel ministry from ministry of environment & forests that despite repeated recommendations issues with regard to occupational health of workers, national security linked with environmental security and entry of dead vessels in India waters on fake documents remains unattended. As a consequence, more than 200 ships which are currently on Alang beach have entered Indian water in violation of Supreme Court\\\’s order.
I submit that in the year 2011, 27 workers died in the shipbreaking activities at Alang beach. IMC ought to consider providing relief to these migrant casual workers who live and work in a slave like condition.
I also submit that citing massive pollution as a reason, Sachana shipbreaking plots in Jamnagar district , Gujarat has been closed as per the order of Gujarat government. The Sachna The order\\\’s copy in Gujarati and its English translation is attached. Some private agencies have been carrying out ship-breaking work. “The ship-breaking is termed illegal because this breaking activity is going on in the water of Marine National Park. Unless and until, Government of India gives permission, such activity cannot be carried out in the Marine National Park area because Marine National park Jamnagar is a important sanctuary where marine life of excellent quality live,” states an order dated 22-11-2011 from the Office of Chief Forest Conservator “to cancel the plots allotted of Sachana ship braking yard. These plots are in the land of Forest / Marine Sanctuary”.
The order concludes, “GMB has never taken the official permission for the ship-breaking activity. Whatever activity is carried out by GMB is the violation of the rules of Marine National Park. So this activity must be stopped until the permission is granted. GMB must be careful regarding this. If they continue this activity, it will be violation of the rules and the authorities of GMB will be personally responsible for this violation. GMB has never taken the official permission for the ship-breaking activity. Whatever activity is carried out by GMB is the violation of the rules of Marine National Park. So this activity must be stopped until the permission is granted. GMB must be careful regarding this. If they continue this activity, it will be violation of the rules and the authorities of GMB will be personally responsible for this violation.”
The order reads, “Because of ship-breaking, harmful objects like arsenic, mercury, asbestos, oil, etc could harm marine life in the long time. This leads to complex problems for protecting and conserving the Marine National Park and Marine sanctuary.”These observations are quite relevant for the ship-breaking operations on Alang beach, Bhavnagar as well.
I wish to draw your attention towards UN Special Rapporteur\\\’s report which reads, "Regulatory authorities in Alang/Sosiya and the shipbreaking industry should step up their efforts to improve health and safety in the yards" because he also states and observes his major concerns as "the health and safety situation prevailing at the shipbreaking yards continues to remain critical, as witnessed by the 12 fatal accidents that occurred in Alang/Sosiya during the course of 2009, and there are a number of identifiable shortcomings which need to be addressed" at page 12 of the report.
The report states, "Health facilities in Alang/Sosiya do not possess sufficient human, technical and financial resources to provide any treatment other than first aid for minor injuries. The nearest hospital equipped to deal with life-threatening conditions is in Bhavnagar, more than 50 kilometres away. The Red Cross hospital in Alang, which the Special Rapporteur visited, can count on only four medical doctors and nine beds to provide health care not only to some 30,000 workers in the yards, but also to the neighbouring villages of Alang (which has a population of about 18,000 people) and Sosiya (4,000 people)" on page 14.
It observes, "In Mumbai the situation is even worse, with no permanent facilities except first aid and ambulance services." It notes, "most workers, but reportedly also a number of yard owners, are not aware of the serious life-threatening work-related diseases which may result from long-term exposure to toxic and hazardous substances and materials present on end-of-life ships. In particular, it appears that the majority of the workforce and the local population do not know the adverse consequences of prolonged exposure to asbestos dusts and fibres and are not familiar with the precautions that need to be taken to handle asbestos-containing materials."
It is true that "The majority of the workforce lives in overcrowded makeshift facilities just outside the yards. Most accommodations lack basic amenities such as kitchens, toilet facilities, electricity and running water. The water and sanitation facilities available in Alang/Sosiya remain grossly inadequate to deal with the consumption, cooking, and personal and domestic hygienic requirements of the 30,000 workers who work and live there. In Mumbai, the situation is even worse, with no safe drinking water available in the yards."
On page 13, he observes, "the vast majority of the workforce in Mumbai do not receive any information on the hazards or risks to health and safety, nor do they receive any training on how to avoid or minimize them. With regard to safety training, the Special Rapporteur is of the view that existing training opportunities in Alang/Sosiya should be improved, considering the magnitude of the risks associated with shipbreaking activities and the hazardous substances workers are potentially exposed to." The report adds, "Due to the informal nature of working arrangements, workers are not covered by social protection schemes, and do not receive any benefit in case of work-related injuries or diseases."
The Special Rapporteur observes, employers do not pay for long-term medical treatment or for expenses linked to chronic work-related illnesses. Workers do not usually receive any wages or benefits when absent from work on medical grounds. UN Special Rapporteur\\\’s assessment reads:”…in India ships are dismantled on beaches, a method commonly referred to as “beaching”. This method of ship dismantling fails to comply with generally accepted norms and standards on environmental protection. Although very little work has been carried out to assess its environmental impact, the dismantling of ships on sandy beaches without any containment other than the hull of the ship itself appears to have caused high levels of contamination of soil, air, and marine and freshwater resources in many South Asian countries, and to have adversely affected the livelihood of local communities surrounding the shipbreaking facilities, which often rely on agriculture and fishing for their subsistence" at page 9 of the report.
I submit that UN Special Rapporteur\\\’s recommends "an independent study be carried out to assess the actual and potential adverse effects caused by the discharge of hazardous substances and materials into the natural environment. Such a study should also assess the steps that need to be taken for the gradual phasing out of “beaching” in favour of more environmentally friendly methods of shipbreaking" at page 21 of the report.
With regard to Shri Rajgopal Sharma\\\’s letter, I submit that European Commission official in his conversation with Shri Sharma has admitted that currently all trade in dead ships is illegal. The end of life vessels from Europe which constitutes 17 % of world merchant fleet violates Basel Convention, Supreme Court\\\’s order and their ow EU Waste Shipment Regulation, 2006. It appears from the letter that EC wants to legitimize its illegal traffic in end of life vessels by amending its EU Waste Shipment Regulation from April 2012 onwards to order to easily transfer their hazardous wastes laden dead ships like Le Clemenceau to Indian beaches while protecting their own.
I submit that this development ought be looked at in the context of the Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) with countries like Japan (1078 page long agreement) and EU (under negotiation) who have been promoting hazardous wastes trade along with countries such as US, Germany, and the UK appear to be outwitting UN’ conventions and Supreme Court’s order by indulging in linguistic corruption by referring to hazardous wastes as recyclable material and non-new goods.
In view of the above, I earnestly request the IMC to submit its minutes, its recommendations and its action taken report to the Supreme Court at the earliest so that remedial measures can be taken at the earliest to safeguard our environmental borders. I will be happy to share relevant papers in this regard and appear before the IMC as and when required.
ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA)
Phone: +91-11-2651781, Fax: +91-11-26517814