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Open Letter to Union Environment Secretary on Hazardous Waste Crisis

Written By Gopal Krishna on Saturday, November 15, 2008 | 12:11 PM

Hazardous Waste case is scheduled for final hearing on 19 November in the Supreme Court


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. Also please let me know about the current exposure incidents in
Alang and how many workers are suffering from asbestos diseases. As
you are aware, the official acknowledgement has come in the form of a
report of the Committee of Technical Experts set up by the Supreme
Court headed by Dr Prodipto Ghosh to investigate the health of workers
at the ship-breaking yard at Alang, Gujarat. The committee found that
16 per cent of the workers suffered from asbestosis. Asbestosis is a
progressive disease of the lungs which has a latency period of
anywhere between 20 and 35 years. Exposure to asbestos also leads to
lung cancer and malignant mesothelioma, and other pleural disorders.
It is clear from the affidavit that 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 that asbestos is a matter of grave concern.

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
Bhojpuri speaking Bihar, UP, Jharkhand regions and Orissa with toxic

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 no 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 give precedence to human health above hazardous waste trade. The
issue must be dealt with at a much higher level than is the 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

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.

Last year, CAG audit reported on the environment management of Mumbai
Port Trust and the report had shown in details how there was a need to
strengthen the environmental clearance process emanating from EIA
notification 1994. On the contrary, MoEF went ahead with its moves to
amend the EIA Notification, which has further weakened the
environmental clearance process. "Environmental Management of Mumbai
Port Trust" (Report 3 of 2007) as illustrative examples of Supreme
Audit Institution of India's significant efforts in conducting full
fledged Environmental Auditing (EA) reports with Performance Audit
framework, applying guidelines and benchmarked best practices.

As auditing and accounting are inextricably interlinked, the
important pre-requisite for effective environmental auditing is sound
environmental accounting. Data on environmental costs and liabilities
can be used for better decision making in areas like use of inputs,
choice of technology for processing and handling of hazardous
chemicals, hazardous wastes and byproducts. These can in turn help
decision making relating to usage of alternative raw materials,
consumption of utilities like water and power, choice of processing
technology based on environmental cost of treating emission into air,
discharge into water, adverse environmental aspect and impact on flora
fauna and human beings, treatment of byproducts etc. can be looked
into systematically for achieving competitive advantage and brand

An independent committee on hazardous waste with inter-ministerial
coordination should investigate the above mentioned mismanagement,
reiterate the support for equivalent level of control in new
legislations both nationally as well as internationally and set the
matters right so that such incidents are avoided in future. This
approach has been endorsed by the Parliamentary Petitions Committee in
its report to the Lok Sabha as well.

Please consider the urgency of the issues mentioned above and kindly
send me a copy of the draft or final copy of the Comprehensive Code on
Shipbreaking and a status report on asbestos diseases in Alang
shipbreaking yards.
Thanking you

Yours faithfully

Dr V Maitreyan, Chairman Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science
and Technology, Environment and Forests
Mr D. Raja, Member, Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science and
Technology, Environment and Forests
Mr Rajiv Pratap Rudy, Member, Parliamentary Standing Committee on
Science and Technology, Environment and Forests
Mr G Elias, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Steel
Mr Sanjay Parikh, Advocate, Supreme Court
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