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Letter to NHRC on death and injury of migrant workers on Alang beach

Written By Gopal Krishna on Saturday, June 28, 2014 | 7:11 AM


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA)

To

Justice K G Balakrishnan
Chairperson
National Human Rights Commission (NHRC)
Manav Adhikar Bhawan
Block-C, GPO Complex, INA,
New Delhi - 110023

Date: June 28, 2014

Subject- Some 10 workers killed-death and injury of migrant workers remains routine affair on Alang beach, Bhavnagar, Gujarat

Sir,

This is to draw your urgent attention towards the tragic deaths and injury of migrant workers on Alang beach, Bhavnagar, Gujarat on June 28, 2014 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 number 140. This is part of a pattern that is crying for attention since 1984 because Alang has become the graveyard of workers and toxic ships by externalizing human and environmental cost.
I wish to submit that the dismantling of end-of-life ships from ship owning developed is underway in violation of the Hon'ble Supreme Court's order which had directed that no foreign end-of-life ship can Indian waters without prior decontamination by the country of export. End-of-life ships have scrap steel, mechanical parts and other valuable equipment that are recycled or refurbished for use in other industries. 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. 

I submit that as of now trade in end-of-life ships is regulated by UN's Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal was adopted on March 22, 1989, that came into force on May 5, 1992. India ratified it on June 24, 1992. 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. 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 the case of blast that killed and injured workers on June 28, 2014, ship's country of export and its IMO no. needs to checked as well to comprehend its background. 

I submit that in its last 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.” These repeated accidents since the order illustrate that Court's order has not been violated with impunity as if no rule of law exists. 

I submit that there is an urgent need to issue notices to Government of Gujarat, Union Ministry of Labour and Steel besides to the State Governments to which the migrant workers belong.  Such ongoing deaths reveal the reason for opposition to shipbreaking activity in Kerala’s Azheekkal and in Gujarat’s Mundra is being opposed bitterly by villagers.

I submit 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.
On March 13, 2014 too, I had drawn your attention towards the “Ongoing deaths of migrant workers on Gujarat's Alang beach” This was to draw your kind attention towards the tragic deaths on March 11, 2014 of two workers in Plot No. 20 at Gujarat's Alang beach in Bhavnagar. 
I submit that following my complaint NHRC team of Dr. Savita Bhakhry, Joint Director, Research Division, NHRC, and Mr. K S Kochcher, Joint Secretary, NHRC visited the Alang-Sosiya Ship Breaking Yard on May 26 2014 under your leadership and 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.  This accident of June 28, 2014 underlines the significance of your visit.  
I submit that information on No. of deaths related to ship breaking activity at Alang-Sosiya Ship Breaking Yard, No. of prosecutions, status of prosecutions and no. of plots closed due to violation of the Factories Act since 1983 to 2013 provided by the Office of the Director Industrial Safety & Health, Government of Gujarat (No./DISH / E-Complaint /2014/ 219) reveals that such accidents have been going on since 1984 without any legal remedy. The information is as under:

Sr. No.
Year
No. of Deaths
No .of Prosecutions
Status of Prosecution
Closures u/s 40(2)

No. of Factories
No. of days closed
         1.          
1983
0
0
Not decided
0
0
         2.          
1984
15
54
Not decided
0
0
         3.          
1985
5
9
Not decided
0
0
         4.          
1986
13
76
Not decided
0
0
         5.          
1987
7
25
Not decided
0
0
         6.          
1988
2
3
Not decided
0
0
         7.          
1989
12
6
Not decided
0
0
         8.          
1990
8
1
Not decided
0
0
         9.          
1991
10
7
Not decided
0
0
       10.        
1992
12
3
Not decided
0
0
       11.        
1993
16
3
Not decided
0
0
       12.        
1994
28
13
Not decided
0
0
       13.        
1995
29
7
Not decided
0
0
       14.        
1996
28
15
Not decided
0
0
       15.        
1997
51
23
Not decided
2
38
       16.        
1998
27
13
Not decided
2
17
       17.        
1999
29
20
Not decided
1
2
       18.        
2000
27
26
31
0
0
       19.        
2001
8
12
9
3
22
       20.        
2002
19
41
Not decided
1
14
       21.        
2003
25
9
5
3
59
       22.        
2004
5
6
6
0
0
       23.        
2005
4
3
Not decided
0
0
       24.        
2006
5
12
1
1
6
       25.        
2007
6
6
Not decided
0
0
       26.        
2008
0
0
0
0
0
       27.        
2009
14
8
5
0
0
       28.        
2010
21
17
15
0
0
       29.        
2011
7
6
34
0
0
       30.        
2012
17
9
4
1
46
       31.        
2013
10
27
36
0
0
I submit that it is quite outrageous that Gujarat Maritime Board (Conditions and Procedures for Granting Permission for Utilising Ship Recycling Plots) Regulation, 2006 [referred to as "Ship Recycling Regulations, 2006] has not been revised in the light of Hon'ble Supreme Court's order and the recommendations of Hon'ble Court's Inter-Ministerial Committee and Hon'ble Court's Committee.
I wish to reiterate that the Minutes of the 16th meeting of the Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC) on Ship breaking held on 1-10-2013 at Gandhinagar, Gujarat held under Chairmanship of Shri Vinod Kumar Thakral, Additional Secretary and Financial Adviser, Ministry of Steel & Chairman, IMC on Ship Breaking reveals that it dwelt on the issue of "Safety of workers."
"The IMC was informed that the accident at Plot No. 82, killing 7 persons occurred due to presence of oil and its vapour in the pipeline of the ship, while cutting the oil pipe flanged with LPG gas cutting
equipment. DISH has revoked the competency certificate of the person who issued the certificate. The office of the Deputy Director Industrial Safety and Health, Alang has issued prohibitory order under
Section 40 (2) of the Factories Act to prohibit ship breaking till oil in the pipe line is completely cleaned and a fresh the certificate is obtained from the competent person. The factory owner has complied
with the conditions of the prohibitory order and therefore the prohibition was lifted by the Director, Industrial Safety and Health on 23.11.2012. Prosecution for the violation of Rule 68-H (13) (a) of
Gujarat Factories Rules, 1963 (as amended in 1995) made under the Factories Act regarding allowing hot work on pipeline carrying oil and its vapour while ship breaking by the occupier is filed in the court
of law against the occupier. Details of the PF related benefits paid to families of the deceased employees were also placed before the IMC need to be examined from adequacy angle. Chairman, IMC enquired
whether criminal prosecution was launched against people who were responsible for loss of life in this accident. GMB may provide details in the next meeting. DISH was asked to place the report of action
taken in respect of the accident on the website of GM B and prepare Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) for preventing such incident in future."

I submit that as per Hon'ble Supreme Court judgment dated September 6, 2007 in Writ Petition (Civil) no. 657 of 1995, District Collector, Bhavnagar has to ensure that dismantling takes place as per a
dismantling in keeping with its directions. Sources have revealed that in disregard to Court's order so far the District Collector has chosen not to be associated with the dismantling process. Such non-compliance is unpardonable but appears routine.

I submit that monitoring agencies like Gujarat Maritime Board, Gujarat Pollution Control Board, Department of Industry and Department of Labour ought to be made accountable with exemplary compensation to set matters right.

In the context of these deaths if Government of Gujarat were sensitive it would have ensured that no deaths happen in future by re-opening the old cases of occupational deaths on the Alang beach to set matters right. Those plots which are more accident prone than mines must be closed with immediate effect. The migrant workers deserve both medical and legal remedy besides just compensation.

I submit that there were 10 deaths in 2013. It has not come to light as to what has Government done to ensure justice to the workers and what steps have been initiated to ensure that such accidents and deaths do not happen in future. These migrant casual workers live and work in a slave like condition.

I submit that the fate of Alang coast which is the worst coastal beach in the world.

I submit that Gujarat government took the right step by shutting down the Sachana plots in November 2011 citing massive pollution as a reason, Sachana shipbreaking plots in Jamnagar district , Gujarat
where some private agencies have been carrying out ship-breaking work. The closure order read: "The ship-breaking is termed illegal because this breaking activity is going on in the water of Marine National
Park..." stated an order dated 22-11-2011 from the Office of Chief Forest Conservator. The order said: "Because of ship-breaking, harmful objects like arsenic, mercury, asbestos, oil, etc could harm marine
life in the long time. This leads to complex problems for protecting and conserving the Marine National Park and Marine sanctuary."
I submit that these observations are quite relevant for the ship-breaking operations on Alang beach, Bhavnagar as well but government has ignored the similarity between the two.
I wish to draw your attention towards UN Special Rapporteur's report based on his visit to Alang beach in January 2010. I had accompanied him during his visit at his invitation.

I submit that UN Special Rapporteur's assessment reads:"...in India ships are dismantled on beaches, a method commonly referred to as "beaching". This method of ship dismantling fails to comply with
generally accepted norms and standards on environmental protection.  Although very little work has been carried out to assess its environmental impact, the dismantling of ships on sandy beaches
without any containment other than the hull of the ship itself appears to have caused high levels of contamination of soil, air, and marine and freshwater resources in many South Asian countries, and to have
adversely affected the livelihood of local communities surrounding the shipbreaking facilities, which often rely on agriculture and fishing for their subsistence" at page 9 of the report.

I submit that UN Special Rapporteur's recommends "an independent study be carried out to assess the actual and potential adverse effects caused by the discharge of hazardous substances and materials into the
natural environment. Such a study should also assess the steps that need to be taken for the gradual phasing out of "beaching" in favour of more environmentally friendly methods of shipbreaking" at page 21
of the report.

I submit that it has been almost 4 years but nothing has been done to make Alang coastal beach a tourist attraction of international standard. Some 6, 000 end-of-life ships were permitted in the past 30
years ignoring Navel Intelligence reports underlining threat to Alang's coastal environment.
I submit that Government has failed to ensure that the guilty officials and ship breakers are made accountable.

I submit that the recent inspection Supreme Court constituted Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC) on Shipbreaking team took note of non-existent environmental and occupational health infrastructure for
the umpteenth time since 2004. It is sad that recommendations of IMC from 2004 to 2014 onwards have not been implemented.

I submit that after each accident and death of workers, inquiry is ordered but their report remains classified and no action has been taken. It is not clear whether these migrant workers are adequately compensated in case of injury and death. Government should reveal how they have dealt with the death of these workers and how their families have been compensated and what steps have been taken to prevent loss of human lives due to inhuman lust of ship breakers and global shipping companies for profit.

I submit that at present the migrant workers in Alang who face discrimination for being Hindi and Oriya speaking and are not covered under Employees' State Insurance Corporation. Workers' living and
working condition remains bad.

I submit that the illegal shipment of hazardous waste "from industrialised countries is being shipped to less developed countries under the listed intention of recycling and reclamation," is a serious
problem which has been noted even by INTERPOL. According to Green Customs Initiative, national and international crime syndicates earn 20-30 billion US dollars annually from hazardous wastes dumping, smuggling proscribed hazardous materials. Clearly, environmental crime and escaping of decontamination cost by global shipping companies in collaboration with international recycling industry is a significant and increasingly lucrative business but Gujarat government has turned a blind eye to it.

It appears that the world's most controversial beach has been colonized by the global shipping companies for good. At present businessmen of dubious shades they are aiding and abetting colonialism
by dumping hazardous waste at the behest of shipping companies of imperial powers. The UN report states, "Health facilities in Alang/Sosiya do not possess sufficient human, technical and financial
resources to provide any treatment other than first aid for minor injuries. The nearest hospital equipped to deal with life-threatening conditions is in Bhavnagar, more than 50 kilometres away. The Red
Cross hospital in Alang, which the Special Rapporteur visited, can count on only four medical doctors and nine beds to provide health care not only to some 30,000 workers in the yards, but also to the
neighbouring villages of Alang (which has a population of about 18,000 people) and Sosiya (4,000 people)" on page 14. The regime of blind profit at any cost is ruling the roost on this ecologically fragile
beach illustrates how all the efforts by the Supreme Court and UN agencies have been undermined with impunity.

I submit that it is expected that based on lessons from Sachana, Government of Gujarat and Government India would send a categorical message by refusing permission for the proposed ship-breaking facility
to the foreign ship owning countries that they should keep their own waste and recycle it. It is proposed near Mundra West Port in Gujarat's Kachchhh (Kutch) district proposed by Shri Gautam Adani led
Adani Ports and Special Economic Zone Limited (APSEZL). This accident vindicates the demand of Kerala’s Azheekkal action committee of local residents for stoppage of ship breaking undertaken by Steel Industrials Kerala Ltd. (SILK) in the coastal area at Azheekkal, located near the estuary where the Valapattanam river falls into the Arabian Sea, 11 km from Kannur due to hazards from such industrial activity.

In view of the above, I seek Commission's urgent intervention to ensure environmental and occupational health justice to the migrants workers and save the life and health of migrant workers and local communities from the hazardous industrial activities on Alang beach.

Thanking You

Yours faithfully
Gopal Krishna
ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA)
Mb: 09818089660, 08227816731
E-mail:gopalkrishna1715@gmail.com
Web:www.toxicswatch.org
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