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Ships recycling Bill 'allows' India to be turned into a landfill for foreign hazardous waste

Counterview Desk
In a letter to M Venkaiah Naidu, chairman, Rajya Sabha, senior activist Gopal Krishna of the Toxics Watch Alliance has said that the Recycling of Ships Bill, 2019 should be referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science and Technology, Environment, Forests and Climate Change to "safeguard country’s maritime environment from harmful and hazardous wastes and materials".

Text:

With reference to the passage of the 18-page Recycling of Ships Bill, 2019 in the Lok Sabha on December 3, 2019, I wish to request you to refer this Bill to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science & Technology, Environment, Forests & Climate Change to safeguard country’s maritime environment from hazardous wastes and materials.
I have undertaken research on the subject in question for over a decade and the related aspects of hazardous wastes and materials since 2000 and have been an invitee to the UN bodies, Parliamentary Committees and the Supreme Court’s committees for submissions on this subject.
On behalf of Toxics Watch Alliance (TWA), I have been an applicant in the Hon’ble Court in an effort to stop India from becoming a dumping of foreign toxic wastes and end-of-life ships. It is noteworthy that India does not have an exhaustive inventory of hazardous wastes and materials with their environmental health impacts.
Having been in conversation with the inter-ministerial Ship Breaking Scrap Committee since July 22, 2014 seeking compliance with the Shipbreaking Code, 2013, Basel Convention, the only international/UN law on ship breaking and having engaged with the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Shipbreaking, Ministry of Steel in the past, the subject of ship-breaking industry was under the Steel Ministry from 1983 to July 2014 before it was brought under the supervision of the Ministry of Shipping. The fact remains ship breaking/recycling is a secondary steel production activity, an activity which is beyond the competence of Ministry of Shipping.
This Bill refers to the International Maritime Organisation (IMO)’s Hong Kong International Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships, 2009 which was framed by the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) and the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal, 1989. The Ban Amendment which comes into force today (December 5, 2019) is related to the latter. India is a party to the Basel Convention but not to the latter.
I wish to draw your attention towards enactment of the Bangladesh Ship Recycling Act, 2018 which has been legislated by Jatiya Sangsad on January 24, 2018 admittedly at the behest of foreign lobbies who wish to create an world order where free trade in hazardous wastes and end-of-life ships gets legalised so that major ship owning companies/countries can escape decontamination cots.
I have reliably learnt that that some foreign global shipping lobbies are work to ensure that India ratifies IMO's Hong Kong International Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships, 2009 (the Hong Kong Convention), which has not come into force because shipbreakers, environmental and labour groups of India, Bangladesh and Pakistan are opposed to it as it is anti-environment, anti-workers and contrary to supreme national interest.
These lobbies have succeeded in Bangladesh. The Bangladesh Ship Recycling Bill, 2018 was passed in their parliament in January 2018. The Bill was introduced by their Industries Minister Amir Hossain Amu and it was passed by voice vote. Under the new law, a 13-member Board is supposed to be constituted to oversee the activities of the ship recycling industries with an additional secretary of the Ministry of Industries as its chairman in Bangladesh.
Ahead of the entry into force of the Ban Amendment to the Basel Convention which prohibits dumping of hazardous wastes and end-of-life products in myriad disguises, it seemed surprising that on 20th November, 2019, the Press Information Bureau, Government of India, announced that the Cabinet has approved “proposal for enactment of the Recycling of Ships Bill, 2019 and accession to the Hong Kong International Convention for Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships, 2009.”
It seems the Cabinet which rightly acknowledges that “the ship-recycling industry is a labour-intensive sector, but it is susceptible to concerns on environmental safety”, has been misled by some external lobbies at work with an aim to outwit India into disregarding its position against dumping of hazardous wastes through linguistic corruption wherein waste is defined as “non-new good” or recyclable material.
The Parliamentary Committee on Science and Technology, Environment, Forests and Climate Change should be asked to examine the compelling logic for India to ratify the Ban Amendment that prohibits the export of hazardous waste from more developed to less developed countries and to examine reasons for recommending why India should not ratify the Hong Kong Convention.
It is a matter of distressed that India’s callousness towards the UN accord to stop the flow of hazardous wastes from developed to developing countries like India is akin to opposing the Prime Minister’s Clean India Mission. It is also in violation of Hon’ble Supreme Court’s verdict in Writ Petition (Civil) No 657 of 1995 based on the recommendations of Prof MGK Menon headed the High Powered Committee on Hazardous Wastes that dealt with ship breaking at length.
Such indifference lowers the stature of India and its scientific community because it is contrary to sustainable consumption and the circular economy as well as the Sustainable Development Goals.
India cannot be turned into a land of landfills for foreign hazardous wastes. Unless all the waste that is generated in our own country has been treated and disposed of in an environmentally sound manner, how can hazardous waste import be permitted?
The passage of the Recycling of Ships Bill, 2019 by Rajya Sabha will tantamount to ratification of the Hong Kong Convention, which facilitates trade in hazardous wastes related to end-of-life ships, which are also hazardous wastes as per the Basel Convention. How can this happen in a business as usual manner unmindful of the Hon’ble Prime Minister’s Clean India Mission and Hon’ble Court’s verdict?
This position is inconsistent with the National Environment Policy that includes strategies for cleanup of toxic and hazardous waste dump legacies, developing a national inventory of such dumps, an online monitoring system for movement of hazardous wastes and taking legal measures for addressing emergencies arising out of transportation, handling, and disposal of hazardous wastes. India’s current position seems to be inconsistent with our the Prime Minister’s Clean India Mission.
According to the verdict of the court:
“Hazardous wastes are highly toxic in nature. The industrialization has had the effect of generation of huge quantities of hazardous wastes. These and other side effects of development gave birth to principles of sustainable development so as to sustain industrial growth. The hazardous waste required adequate and proper control and handling. Efforts are required to be made to minimise it. In developing nations, there are additional problems including that of dumping of hazardous waste on their lands by some of the nations where cost of destruction of such waste is felt very heavy. These and other allied problems gave birth to the Basel Convention.”
This verdict has been given in Writ Petition (Civil) No 657 of 1995. The Convention was made part of its order by the court due to alarming situation created by dumping of hazardous waste, its generation and serious and irreversible damage, as a result thereof, to the environment, flora and fauna, health of animals and human beings. The court took cognizance of dumping of hazardous wastes in Indian waters as violation of Article 14 and 21 of the Constitution of India. It is evident from it that the position of this Indian delegate betrays his ignorance about the issue.
The Recycling of Ships Bill, 2019 will tantamount to ratification of the Hong Kong Convention, which facilitates trade in hazardous wastes related to end-of-life ships
I wish inform you that such motivated attempts have attracted widespread criticism from environment, public health groups and even the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) when hazardous wastes and hazardous materials and recyclable materials was being made synonymous by redefining "hazardous waste" as "hazardous material" in a manifest act of linguistic corruption.
In a study, the Associated Chambers of Commerce & Industry (ASSOCHAM) also recommended ban on trade in hazardous wastes. Two members of the court's own monitoring committee on hazardous wastes have also raised objections They who are complicit in promoting hazardous waste dumping in our country are doing so at the behest of hazardous waste traders. Their role needs to be probed by the Parliamentary Committee.
I wish to draw your attention towards the Basel Convention’s very clear and simple definition of waste: "Wastes are materials which are disposed of, or intended to be disposed of, or required to be disposed of, to the environment”. The court’s verdict has directed the Union of India to incorporate the Basel list in the existing rules and had actively argued for expanding the list of prohibited items for import. If India does not revise its position it will amounts to a formal announcement that India is welcoming globalisation of the toxic hazardous waste and its arrival in Indian waters.
Instead of falling into the trap of hazardous waste traders, India should call for the development of guidance to aid countries to help prohibit efforts to reclassify hazardous waste as non-waste in an exercise of circuitous definition. Hazardous waste exporters from rich countries have been consistently seeking to export toxic scrap to India and likewise, there has been a similar trend among businesses in the India to import such waste.
This is being done despite the fact that the National Environment Policy acknowledges how "environmental factors are estimated as being responsible in some cases for nearly 20 percent of the burden of disease in India".
India must take a principled stand in tune with the main principles of this UN treaty which are: transboundary movements of hazardous wastes should be reduced to a minimum consistent with their environmentally sound management; hazardous wastes should be treated and disposed of as close as possible to their source of generation; and hazardous waste generation should be reduced and minimized at source. The present position is contrary to these principles and stands in manifest contrast with its position in 1992.
By a decision III/1, of September 22, 1995, at COP-3, the third meeting of the Conference of the Contracting Parties to the above Convention that took place in Geneva in September 1995, adopted an Amendment to the Convention. This bans the export of hazardous wastes for final disposal and recycling from rich countries to poorer countries. This Article reads as follows:
“Instruments of ratification, approval, formal confirmation or acceptance of amendments shall be deposited with the Depositary. Amendments adopted in accordance with paragraphs 3 or 4 [of article 17 of the Convention] shall enter into force between Parties having accepted them on the ninetieth day after the receipt by the Depositary of their instrument of ratification, approval, formal confirmation or acceptance by at least three-fourths of the Parties who accepted them or by at least two thirds of the Parties to the protocol concerned who accepted them, except as may otherwise be provided in such protocol. The amendments shall enter into force for any other Party on the ninetieth day after that Party deposits its instrument of ratification, approval, formal confirmation or acceptance of the amendments.”
The Ban Amendment has now entered into force without India. Its parent treaty, the Basel Convention, is in force and India is a party to it.
Under the influence of countries like USA, Germany, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, South Korea and Japan in general and the US Chamber of Commerce, the world’s largest business federation representing the interests of more than 3 million businesses, the International Chamber of Commerce, US Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries and the Bureau of International Recycling (BIR), the international trade federation representing the world’s recycling industry, India’s position have faced continued dilution. These countries and interests never wished the Basel Convention, the Ban Amendment and the compliant Rules to come into force.
The Parliamentary Committee on Science and Technology, Environment, Forests and Climate Change should be requested to examine how as part of the Clean India Mission, our Government can try to regain its original stance of being a strong opponent of the international waste trade and an ardent supporter ban on toxic waste exports from the world’s richest countries to less industrialized ones. The Government of India should recollect its position at the First Conference of Parties to the Basel Convention in Piriapolis, Uruguay, from 3-4 December, 1992. A Bhattacharja, head of the Indian delegation who pleaded with industrialized countries to stop exporting hazardous waste:
“You industrial countries have been asking us to do many things for the global good — to stop cutting down our forests, to stop using your CFCs. Now we are asking you to do something for the global good: keep your own waste.”
The Government of India was firm even at the Second Basel Convention Conference of Parties, in March 1994 and advocated ban on all hazardous waste exports from the world’s most industrialized countries, the members of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) to non-industrialized countries like India. It was only in 1995 that the Government of India revised its position at the Third Basel Conference of Parties in September 1995 under the harmful influence of representatives of the US and Australia.
The US government and ICC have been instrumental in outwitting the UN ban on hazardous waste trade through bilateral Free Trade Agreements between countries. In one of its position paper on the Basel Convention, ICC has even called for the ban on hazardous waste to be stopped by the World Trade Organization (WTO) because it is trade disruptive. This undermines the customary environmental law principles.
To safeguard our country’s environmental security and maritime security, India should not allow itself to be misled by hazardous waste traders who are blinded by their lust for profit at any human and environmental cost. In any case the truth about who all were immorally, unethically and unpatriotically complicit with merchants of death, the hazardous waste traders and who all defended public health will not remain hidden for long. This is required to ensure that foreign toxic waste does not flow in the veins and arteries of present and future Indians.
In view of the above facts, I wish to request you to save India from becoming the dumping ground of rich countries by referring The Recycling of Ships Bill, 2019 to the above mentioned Parliamentary Committee.

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