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Order allowing only decontaminated ships to dismantle "not implemented": Death of migrants at Alang

By Our Representative
In a representation to KG Balakrishnan, chairperson, National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Delhi, top civil rights activist Gopal Krishna of the Toxics Watch Alliance (TWA) has submitted that the death of "some 10 migrant workers"  on Alang beach, Bhavnagar, Gujarat, on June 28 suggests that the authorities continue to treat such accidents as a routine affair and have become “part of a pattern.” The deaths occurred due to a blast triggered by a suspected gas leak that took place in a ship being dismantled at the Alang ship-breaking yard in plot No 140.
Elucidating, Krishna said, “Dismantling of end-of-life ships is underway in violation of the Supreme Court's order which had directed that no foreign end-of-life ship can enter Indian waters without prior decontamination by the country of export”. He added, “End-of-life ships have scrap steel, mechanical parts and other valuable equipment that are recycled or refurbished for use in other industries.”
He underlined, “These ships contain an array of hazardous materials, such as asbestos, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and waste oils, which, according to the Basel Convention, can have serious implications for the environment and human life if not managed properly”, adding, the convention was adopted on March 22, 1989, came into force on May 5, 1992, and India ratified it on June 24, 1992.
In the light of this, Krishna said, “There is an urgent need to examine the papers of all end-of-life ships currently beached on Alang beach to ascertain whether or not they have complied with the Court's order and the Basel Convention, including the ship in which blast took place, killing and injuring several workers on June 28, 2014. The country of export of the ship is required to inform the country of import of the movement of the ship in question and certify that it is non-hazardous and non-toxic.”
In its order dated July 30, 2012, Supreme Court directed, "The concerned authorities shall strictly comply with the norms laid down in the Basel Convention or any other subsequent provisions that may be adopted by the Central Government in aid of a clean and pollution-free maritime environment, before permitting entry of any vessel suspected to be carrying toxic and hazardous material into Indian territorial waters.”
At the same time, Krishna said, “There is an urgent need to issue notices to the Government of Gujarat, the Union Ministry of Labour and Steel, besides to the state governments to which the migrant workers belong.” In fact, according to the activist, the incident should be a reason enough to cancel the plan to build new shipbreaking yards at Kerala’s Azheekkal and in Gujarat’s Mundra, which is “being opposed bitterly by villagers.”
Pointing out that the “ongoing deaths of migrant workers from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and Odisha on Alang beach, Bhavnagar, Gujarat keep coming to light but nothing has been done to arrest these preventable deaths”, Krishna said, earlier, on March 11, 2014, too, two workers died on Plot No. 20 at Gujarat's Alang beach in Bhavnagar.
Following his complaint, Krishna said, an NHRC team of Dr Savita Bhakhry, Joint Director, Research Division, NHRC, and KS Kochcher, Joint Secretary, NHRC, visited the Alang-Sosiya shipbreaking yard on May 26, 2014 Balakrishnan’s leadership. The team “witnessed the grim situation despite efforts to green wash and whitewash the deplorable working and living conditions on Alang beach where the industrial activity takes place”, and the latest incident is “proof” of what they had witnessed.
Krishna alleged, the Surpeme Court order on shipbreaking years has still not been implemented by the Gujarat Maritime Board, Gujarat’s regulatory body for all posts. “It is quite outrageous that Gujarat Maritime Board (Conditions and Procedures for Granting Permission for Utilising Ship Recycling Plots) Regulation, 2006 has not been revised in the light of the order”, he said.

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