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Alang shipbreaking industry rep says, every industry has accidents, may be due to worker negligence

By Our Representative
In an unusual statement, a top ship cycling industry representative has sought to justify large number of deaths due to accidents occurring at the Alang shipbreaking yard, on south Saurashtra coast in Gujarat, saying, “Every industry has accidents”. Talking to a news portal, KB Tayal, vice president of the Ship Recycling Industries Association (India), Alang, said, “Some (industries) might have more (accidents) than others. Even though it happens, it might be due to negligence of workers, or of the machinery. When it happens, no problem. We pay compensation to workers and a penalty to the government.”
The statement, which should sound shocking to environmentalists, has come in the wake of the Government of India (GoI) decision to look after the affairs of ship recycling industry to the Ministry of Shipping. Currently, the Ministry of Steel is the nodal agency. Significantly, Tayal has sought to oppose the GoI move saying, it would have “”no effect on our business.” Tayal’s organization represents all companies in the business of ship recylcing in Alang and Sosiya. “They must compulsorily be members of the association before they can get permission from the Gujarat Maritime Board to begin cutting”, the site said.
The industry representative further said, GoI can make “whatever policies they have to make, but they cannot go against the industries either way… When you look at it in terms of pricing, the Ministry of Steel was better equipped for that.” Expressing apprehensions about GoI move, he added, “but the Ministry of Shipping can look into other aspects.”
Quoting environmental experts, the site commented, the decision to make Shipping Ministry responsible for ship breaking “could save lives”, adding, “This could be a rare chance for the government to reinvent a sector that has little regulation and is notorious for unsafe labour and health practices.” Mridula Chari, the author, insisted, “This could result in the creation of more ship-breaking ports modeled on the lines of the world’s largest ship-breaking centre in Alang, Gujarat.”
The site quotes senior environmentalist Rohit Prajapati to say, “Fires, contamination by such chemicals as asbestos and tributyltin and workers accidents are the biggest problems in Alang today. Pointing out that this was the major reason for the death of five persons cause by explosion due to gas leak on June 28, when the last accident took place, he suggested that the actual figures of death should be much higher than reported.
“Gujarat’s Directorate of Industrial Safety and Health says that 460 people have died since the Alang yard opened in 1983, an average of 15 each year. But activists working in the area estimate that the total number could be 50 times higher, counting the fatalities reported in small local newspapers”, the site says, quoting Prajapati to say, “If you talk to hospitals, officers with the directorate and even doctors off the record, they will admit the reality of the situation.”
But would the new GoI decision to hand over the ship recycling sector to the Ministry of Shipping become an “opportunity for the hazardous ship-breaking sector in India to reinvent itself?” Ravi Agarwal, director of Toxics Link, an NGO that has been working on the issue of toxins in ship recycling since 1992, believes as of today, things are so bad with ti that “there is no clarity on who the owners are, what proper transaction values are, when do clearances come in. It would be much better if all of this is made above board.”
However, Prajapati, who is with the Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, Vadodara, does not believe the move will benefit the workers. “They are building up a structure where only one department can make point in court of law,” said Prajapati. “Multiple departments can confuse the court, where you might have one department that stands against the industry. Modi had assured the industry that he would do this while campaigning.”
With an annual turnover of over Rs 2,500 crore and approximately 40,000 workers, the site says, “Ships to be scrapped are rammed into the beach at high tide. Once the tide recedes, workers begin to dismantle the ship from front to back. As they remove parts of the ship, they haul the remnants further up the beach, eventually drawing the entire ship in. The largest problem with beaching, apart from the high risk to labour, is that dangerous chemicals often leak into the sea.”
Business is certainly booming. According to data from the association, more ships are being broken at Alang today than ever before.

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