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Waste follows the path of least resistance

Written By mediavigil on Monday, October 22, 2007 | 12:01 AM

Waste follows the path of least resistance

After hazardous wastes, now its municipal & hospital wastes. It is not that we did not know about it but the condemnation from the Union Health Minister is noteworthy since it shows how waste is flowing from the North to South as a global trend.

This underlines the importance of Prior Informed Consent. Although the custom officials of the Kochi port deserve appreciation unlike the officials at Alang port in Gujarat who have continued to let hazardous waste enter Indian waters with impunity. In Kochi three containers sent from New York based Belsun Corporation in the name of recycling had medical wastes, municipal, surgical, bio-medical and even e-waste. It is noteworthy that although India is expected to generate 800,000 tonnes of electronic waste by 2012, Congress Party led Central Government has decided not to enact specific e-waste legislation and chosen to formulate guidelines instead.

Meanwhile Kerala government has sought the immediate return to its port of origin three containers carrying urban waste, which arrived at the Kochi Port from the US. P.K. Sreemathy. Kerela Health Minister has asked the Customs authorities to return the containers and initiate legal proceedings against the Kochi-based company that had imported it. The Minister said the State government would write to the Union Commerce Ministry regarding the incident and seek appropriate measures from its side to ensure that such incidents did not recur.

Like Kochi at Alang port too the ship named Blue Lady (SS Norway) that was allowed anchorage on humanitarian grounds admittedly has huge amount of hazardous wastes likes asbestos waste, radioactive material, incineration ash, ballast water, PCBs, heavy metals but due to the lame and hollow excuse of supposed irreversibility of the ship offered by Gopal Subramaniam, Additional Solicitor General, it remains there. Although Prof. MGK Menon, Chairman, High Power Committee on Hazardous Wastes had recommended that it should be sent back. In this case the company in question is Star Cruise Ltd that has so far successfully attempted to escape its decontamination cost in the aftermath of boiler explosion of 2003 in Miami.

In March 2007, Bhagvatsinh Haubha Gohil, Sarpanch of Sosiya, Tehsil Talaja, Gujarat filed an application on behalf of 12 Sarpanchs and 30, 000 people who live within the distance of 1 to 25 Kms. from the ship breaking yard at Alang before Justice Balakrishnan bench who listed the matter for hearing before the Justice Arijit Pasayat and Justice S H Kapadia bench in the Blue Lady case but the same was not heard till date. These people largely depend on seafood that is under threat from ship-breaking. The ship in question contains large amount of asbestos that poses huge risk of exposure to the villagers. Their application is yet to be heard although final orders were passed on 11th September, 2007. The 45 year old, 315-metre long and 16-storey asbestos laden toxic ship still has radioactive material at more than 1000 places. A clarification application filed on 4th October, 2007 is pending before the apex court.

The hazardous waste generating ship-breaking industry is already known to have a higher accident rate (2 workers per 1000) than the mining industry (0.34 per 1000). This is considered the worst in the world, and 16 per cent of workers here are suffering asbestos related diseases. In its order on 11 September, the Supreme Court advanced "The concept of "balance" under the principle of proportionality applicable in the case of sustainable development…" and ruled that: "It cannot be disputed that no development is possible without some adverse effect on the ecology and environment, and the projects of public utility cannot be abandoned and it is necessary to adjust the interest of the people as well as the necessity to maintain the environment. A balance has to be struck between the two interests. Where the commercial venture or enterprise would bring in results which are far more useful for the people, difficulty of a small number of people has to be bypassed. The comparative hardships have to be balanced and the convenience and benefit to a larger section of the people has to get primacy over comparatively lesser hardship." This is the logic advanced by Union Environment Ministry that makes India a dumping ground of the developed countries. At least since 1995, this Ministry has been guilty of numerous acts of omission and commission that endangers environmental health. It is the respondent in the hazardous wastes case and has been fined by the apex court for dereliction of duty.

By not hearing the matter of gross illegality committed by Riky, the Danish ship and by condoning the entry of Blue Lady in Indian territorial waters in violation of court's own orders of 14 October 2003 and 6th September, 2007 all relevant international laws such as Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal has been violated besides international labour conventions and treaties -- that govern the breaking of contaminated ships - to all of which India is a signatory. The condemnation by the Union Health Ministry makes a case for merger of Union Environment Ministry with it because it is more concerned about the environmental health of the citizens.

CPI (M) led Kerela Government’s strict action against hazardous waste trade is in sharp contrast to the indulgent and supportive role for such trade given by BJP led Gujarat Government and Congress led Central Government.
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