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Open Letter to Union Environment Secretary

Written By Gopal Krishna on Sunday, November 09, 2008 | 11:13 PM

To


Mr Vijai Shrama,
The Secretary
Union Ministry of Environment & Forests
Paryawaran Bhavan, CGO Complex,
Lodi Road, New Delhi 110 003


Subject: Hazardous Wastes case, Comprehensive Code on Ship breaking, explosive waste, radioactive contamination and waste oil in the matter of Writ Petition (Civil) No. 657/1995 of the Supreme Court

This is with reference to the affidavit dated 30 September, 2008 filed by your Ministry and the order of Hon’ble Supreme Court’s order dated 06/09/2007 and 22/1/2008, I wish to have a copy of the Comprehensive Code that has been prepared to regulate ship breaking activity in Alang.

It is clear from the affidavit that the pursuant to the Hon’ble Supreme Court’s order that had accepted all the recommendations of the Technical Experts Committee on Hazardous Wastes relating to Ship-breaking.

As per the affidavit, it is stated that the Code has been finalized as is evident from the minutes of the meeting dated 13/3/2008 at your Ministry the under chairmanship of R H Khawja, Additional Secretary, MoEF. Para 7 of the same minutes refers to the submission by the Ministry of Steel on March 13 saying, “the Code will be finalized by them within three months”

The Hon’ble Supreme Court in its order dated September 6, 2007 directed, “It is desirable that the Government of India shall formulate a comprehensive Code incorporating the recommendations and the same has to be operative until the concerned Statutes are amended to be in line with the recommendations. Until the Code comes into play, the recommendations shall be operative by virtue of this order. Until further orders, the officials of Gujarat Maritime Board, the concerned State Pollution Control Board, officials of the Customs Department, National Institute of Occupational Health (in short 'NIOH') and Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (in short 'AERB') shall oversee the arrangement. The Collector of the district shall be associated when the actual dismantling takes place. Within three weeks the Central Government shall notify the particular authorities. The vetting of the documents to be submitted for the purpose of grant of permission for ship breaking shall be done by the authorities indicated above.” Besides the Code, I wish to know about the compliance of the recommendations of the TEC with regard to workers.

The September 6, 2007 order reiterated the need for prior decontamination in the country of export. There is no reason why the ships cannot be decontaminated in the developed countries prior to towing to the ship breaking yards. Hon’ble Supreme Court said, “At the international level, India should participate in international meetings on ship breaking at the level of the International Maritime Organization and the Basel Convention’s Technical Working Group with a clear mandate for the decontamination of ships of their hazardous substances such as asbestos, waste oil, gas and PCBs prior to exports to India for breaking. Participation should include from Central and State level.”

Currently, International Maritime Organisation (IMO) has drafted a new Ship Recycling Convention namely International Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships. IMO is a body without competence on waste management issues. This Convention in its current text does not achieve an equivalent level of control as that required under the Basel Convention on Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes & their disposal. It will stop a single ship from moving across oceans to disproportionately burden the poorest of the poor and the most vulnerable work force comprising of migrant and casual workers of Bihar, UP, Jharkhand and Orissa with toxic wastes.

The final negotiations International Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships, under the auspices of IMO are underway, prior to its adoption by the Diplomatic Conference in May 2009.

The proposed convention fails to address some basic flaws of the beaching method of ship breaking like planting of cranes alongside the ship for the want of solid substratum; lack of access by emergency vehicles and equipment for the rescue of injured persons; no possibility for containment of toxic substances and safety of the coastal and inter-tidal zones.

It would be quite sane and sensible to suggest that ship-breaking activity which started in 1982 should get off the Alang beach. The activity started in the pre-Environment Protection Act, 1986 days. It is high time we remediated the beach and cherished it the way beaches are valued and treasured the world over. It would be manifestly unreasonable to allow ongoing contamination of the beach with a cocktail of chemicals. We owe it to our coming generations that we hand over a clean beach them. If intergenerational equity is a principle, it must be applied here. The beach must be restored to its pre-1982 days status.

With regard to Gas Free for Hot Work, the Hon’ble Supreme Court said, “The Notification issued by GMB in 2001 on Gas Free for Hot Work, should be made mandatory and no ship should be given a beaching permission unless this certificates is shown. Any explosion irrespective of the possession of certification should be dealt sternly and the license of the plot holder should be cancelled and Explosives inspector should be prosecuted accordingly for giving false certificate.” Gujarat Maritime Board (GMB) has revised its notifications but the fact remains the court orders in regard to Gas Free for Hot Work Certificate for all ships are mandatory.

The Hon’ble Supreme Court said, “ The continuation or expansion of the Alang ship breaking operations should be permitted subject to compliance with the above recommendations by the plot holders.” It added, “That the above conditions also apply to other ship breaking activities in other Coastal States.” It has come to light that a Ship Breaking Unit, Kozhikode, Kerala. This Ship Breaking Unit is based in Beypore in Kozhikode. It is located by the side of the Arabian Sea on the Malabar coast of western India this unit is engaged in breaking of ships as its main activity. It would relevant to seek a report about the status of this unit and their compliance with the Hon’ble Supreme Court orders.

Vindicating our serious concerns regarding presence of radioactive materials at 1088 places onboard Blue Lady (SS Norway, SS Blue Lady), which poses a threat to workers who are currently dismantling it and would pose a threat to future workers who would handle the secondary radioactive steel, on 21 October, 2008 France's Nuclear Safety Authority alerted the Indian authorities about the radioactive lift buttons. In a media release it has said that the lift buttons contained traces of radioactive Cobalt 60 and they have been traced to a foundry in Maharashtra. At present, it is not mandatory for ship breaking industry and Indian foundries to install radiation detectors to check scrap. It said that of 30 workers exposed, 20 had been exposed to doses of between one mSv (milli-Sievert) and three mSv. The maximum permitted dose for workers in the non-nuclear sector is one mSv. Similar complaints have been made by Russia and Sweden and they too have traced the problem in India.

While the French workers have been identified, there is now news of the Indian workers.

In public interest, your ministry must initiate the process of tracing these Indian workers who suffered due to radioactive radiation while working with the metal scrap (from the scrap yard, re-rolling mills to the lift steel button manufacturing factories & other secondary steel products) that was contaminated with radioactive material. There is an urgent need to ban hazardous waste trade and rewrite the present Rules which precedence to human health above hazardous waste trade. The issue must be dealt with at a much higher level than is case now. It appears that this situation has arisen due to acts of grave omission and commission on the part of Environment Ministry, which has drafted loophole ridden Rules that allow import of hazardous wastes in the name of recycling. It is also a result of an exercise in linguistic corruption while drafting the Rules that redefines hazardous waste as a recyclable metal scarp.

Hazardous Waste (Management, Handling and Transboundary Movement) Rules, 2008 nor Atomic Energy (Safe Disposal of Radioactive Wastes) Rules, 1987 deals with the radioactive contaminated finished product. Environment Ministry, Labour Ministry and the Department of Atomic Energy do not provide for Radiological Safety Officer in the scarp metal yards, re-rolling mills and factories. This loophole needs to be urgently plugged before it is too late.

The explosion in the town of Meerut in Uttar Pradesh on November 08, 2008 has reportedly been caused by explosive material in an army waste dump when the waste was to be transported merits your attention too because it has caused loss of lives in the same way as the explosions in Bhushan Steel factory in Sahibabad industrial area did.

According to the definition, waste oil, which comes off ships, contains spills of crude oil, tank-bottom sludge, used fuel remains, emulsions and slop oil, and is highly hazardous. Across the world, such oil has to be reprocessed for recycled use, as they contain toxic levels of cadmium, chromium, arsenic, lead, sulphur and halogens, among other substances. When improperly processed waste oil is burnt in plants, all the harmful constituents are released into the atmosphere as dioxins and furans, which are proven cancer-causing toxins.

The situation has worsened after the Supreme Court order dated 14th October, 2003 that called for tightening of norms because of ports lack of adequate equipment and capacity to test and track where the waste oil goes. According to the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, 1973, called the Marpol Convention, ports are required to have storage and incineration facilities for hazardous oil. Our ports do not have such facilities and the oil is directly given to recyclers without testing for percentage of contaminants. Because it is given away directly, it is virtually impossible for Pollution Control Boards to either know the content of the oil or to track its movement.

An independent committee on hazardous waste with inter-ministerial coordination should investigate these matters further, reiterates our support for equivalent level of control in new legislations and set the matters right so that such incidents are avoided in future.


Yours

Gopal Krishna

Imported Scrap and waste for recycling and reuse

Backgrounder

Import and export of hazardous waste material is allowed in the country only for their reuse and recycling in an environmentally sound manner. This material is not allowed for dumping and disposal. Keeping in view the concerns of the environment, so far imports of waste oil or lead acid batteries scrap etc have not been permitted. Regarding imported waste paper, some waste matter up to 8% in the import of waste paper has been permitted. The guidelines issued by the Ministry of Environment and Forests stipulates that there can not be any organic waste mixed with paper and the importers would ensure that whatever permissible waste comes along with the imported waste is recycled in an environmentally sound manner.

Import/export of hazardous wastes into the country is subject to the provisions of the Hazardous Wastes (Management and Handling) Rules, 1989 as amended in 2003.They are regulated under rules 11, 12, 13 and 14 of the Hazardous Waste Rules as amended in 2003.All the trans-boundary movement of hazardous waste take place with the consent of the competent authorities of India and importing/exporting country. Accordingly, the importer of any hazardous wastes takes permission of the concerned Pollution Control Board or Pollution Control Committee and the exporter of any hazardous waste takes permission from the Ministry of Environment and Forests providing all details.

The government took stringent actions to import of paper waste for processing by the paper mills which is now under Open General License. Initially the waste paper mixed with municipal solid waste had come into the country in the form of imports. The Ministry, keeping in view, our dependence on imported waste paper, issued guidelines to permit maximum 8% content of waste matter which is verified by the Customs Authority in respect of each of imported assignment. The importers also ensure that all recyclable materials are actually recycled, either by them or by other firms in the business of recycling. The guidelines also stipulate that there cannot be any organic waste mixed with waste paper and the importers would ensure that whatever permissible waste come along with the imported waste paper is recycled in an environmentally sound manner. The primary waste material which is imported in the country comes in the form of copper and zinc scraps for manufacture of secondary copper and zinc. Besides these non halogenated plastic scrap is also imported.

As far as ship breaking activities are concerned, India’s position in international forum on ship breaking is that ship destined for breaking is not a waste. We have the capacity to undertake ship breaking activity in an environmentally sound manner. The country has one of the largest ship breaking yards in Asia at Alang in Gujarat. The ship breaking at Alang contributes a good percentage of our steel requirement in the country. A large Treatment, Storage and Disposal Facility (TSDF) have come up at Alang.

PIB
November 10, 2008
Ministry of Environment & Forests
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