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Death of Alang Worker & New Draft Code on Ship Breaking/Reycling

Written By krishna on Tuesday, October 19, 2010 | 8:54 PM


Mr Jairam Ramesh

Union Ministry of Environment & Forests

Government of India

New Delhi

Subject-Death of Alang Worker & New Draft Code on Regulations for Safe and Environmentally Sound Ship Breaking/Recycling


Pursuant to my earlier communications, this is with reference to the death of Janardhan Choudhary, a 28 year old ship breaking worker, working in M/s Bansal Infra Co. Ltd. at yard no.154 Alang Shipbreaking yard, who died as a result of a fatal accident at work on October 12, 2010 at about 3.00 pm. This shows that there has not been improvement in Alang so far. The concerned state agencies have ensured status quo.

While he was working as a helper, scrap material from the ship fell down in the open wing tank manhole of the ship. He was shifted to hospital at Bhavnagar, 50 kms away from Alang and Sosiya ship breaking yards, where he died. Janardhan was a migrant labour from Siddhartha Nagar, an impoverished district of Uttar Pradesh. Why is the hospital 50 km away?. Does Ministry of Steel's Draft Code on Safe Ship Recycling address it adequately? Why has Gujarat Maritime Board (GMB) not been held accountable for its acts of omission and commission and why its structural competence to supervise secondary steel production through ship recycling has not been examined so far.

Even as the Steel Ministry is seized with the issue of 58 page Draft Code on Regulations for Safe and Environmentally Sound Ship Recycling prepared in compliance of the Supreme Court's order dated September 6, 2007 to improve the situation, each such death underlines the fact of non-improvement on the Alang beach. Since January 2010 alone, 17 workers have died while at work. Most of the workers are poor migrants from poor areas of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Orissa, Chattisgarh and Jharkhand and work for meagre wages in a hazardous and toxic working environment. Approximately 50 workers per year are killed on the Alang beach.

I wish to congratulate the central government’s team led by Mr S. Machendranathan, Additional Secretary & Financial Adviser for having visited Alang Beach, Bhavnagar, Gujarat on 17th September, 2010. The death of workers after their visit demonstrates the significance of such an initiative.

IMC’s site visit under Mr Machendranathan merits appreciation for it has issued strict directions to GMB and Shipbreakers to sort out the issue of housing facilities for workers in the shipbreaking industry within three months. Such sensitivity on the part of IMC is rare and environmental and labour groups are encouraged to expect similar action in the matter of enviro-occupational hazards.

Prior to their visit in Alang, there was a visit by Prof. Okechukwu Ibeanu, UN Special Rapporteur of the United Nations Human Rights Council on the adverse effects of the movement and dumping of toxic and dangerous products and wastes on the enjoyment of human rights. I wish to draw your attention towards the statement of the UN Special Rapporteur after his visit to India. Prof. Ibeanu during his 10-day mission, from 11 to 21 January 2010, assessed the progress made by the country in minimising the adverse effects that hazardous activities, such as shipbreaking have on the human rights of countless individuals working in these sectors or living close to the places where these activities take place. He visited a number of shipbreaking yards as well. His statement is attached.

Prof. Ibeanu has noted that in India, ships are currently dismantled on the beach, a method commonly referred to as “beaching”, and its actual impact on the surrounding environment and the livelihood of local communities relying on agriculture and fishing for their subsistence continues to be debated. “In order to ascertain the environmental impact of the shipbreaking industry, I recommend that an independent study be carried out to assess the actual and potential adverse effects that may be caused by the discharge of hazardous material into the natural environment, as well as the level of risk”, he said.

On behalf of the ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA), I had accompanied the UN Special Rappartour and Stefano Sensi, Human Rights Officer, UN Human Rights Council during their visit.

The Special Rapporteur has finally noted that he was “shocked by the extremely poor conditions in which most workers live in Alang and Mumbai”. Semi-skilled and unskilled workers live in makeshift facilities lacking basic sanitation facilities, electricity and even safe drinking water. “I call on Governmental authorities to provide appropriate plots of lands, and facilitate the construction of adequate housing facilities for those who work in the yards. Adequate sanitation and drinking water facilities should also be put in place”. His report will be presented to the UN Human Rights Council.

This letter is with reference to the current ship breaking/ recycling matters. I wish to draw your attention towards five specific issues:-

1. Having read the Chapter 10 of Annual Report of the Steel Ministry pertaining to shipbreaking and the minutes of the IMC meetings, I wish to submit that the minutes of IMC meeting held after 5.10.2009 are not available on the ministry's website as yet.

2. Although Hon'ble Supreme Court through its order dated October 14, 2003 mentions that an Inter-Ministerial Committee be set up for ship breaking comprising of labour and environmental organisations besides members of Ministry of Shipping, Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), Ministry of Labour, Gujarat Maritime Board, Gujarat State Pollution Control Board, Central Pollution Control Board, Steel Scrap and Ship breakers Association etc, the same has not been done so far. More than 6 years have passed since the setting up of IMC but it has not invited workers and environmental groups to make their presentations and testimonies.

3. Although there is need for further modifications in the 58 page Draft Code on Regulations for Safe and Environmentally Sound Ship Recycling, having studied the Draft it is matter of relief that Ministry of Steel is making sincere efforts to comply with the Supreme Court order of 14th October, 2003 and 6th September 2007 to protect the fragile coastal environment of Alang Beach and the most vulnerable workers involved in the shipbreaking activity. While I will send a detailed comment on the Draft Code, I wish to submit few very crucial issues for your consideration.

In Chapter 3 of the Code at Section 3.1.2 there is mention of "dry dock" method for ship recycling among others. And in Chapter 6 of the Code at Section 6.6.1 (a) there is reference to Coastal Regulation Zone-1991 which has decreed the following regulation on 19th February 1991 under the reference Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) Notification, “For regulating development activities, the coastal stretches within 500 metres of the high tide line of the landward side are classified into 4 categories. Paragraph 2 of the Notification lists out the 'Prohibited activities and exceptions' The activities declared as prohibited within the CRZ, namely, Para 2 (ii) states, " manufacture, handling, storage or disposal of hazardous substances as specified in the 'Notifications of the Government of India in the Ministry of Environment and Forests' No. S.O. 594 (E) dated 28th July 1989, S.O. 996 (E) dated 27th November 1989 and G.S.R. 1037 (E) dated 5th December 1989. Para 2 (v) states, “discharge of untreated wastes and effluents from industries, cities towns and other human settlements."

It has been obvious to the vast majority of ship recycling experts and waste management authorities that the methodless process of “beaching" whereby ships are run aground on beaches for cutting and breaking apart in the intertidal zone can never be accomplished in a manner which is environmentally sound or protective of human health. Careful analysis of the intrinsic characteristics of beaching operations are conclusive that no amount of prescriptive improvements or protections can remedy the four fatal characteristics of intertidal beaching operations:

First there is the impossibility of containing pollutants on a tidal beach where hulls of ships are often breached accidentally or by cutting, or toxic paints erode or are abraded sending persistent organic pollutants, heavy metals and oils onto the beach and into the seawater;

Second, due to a shifting and soft wet tidal sand surface, there is the impossibility of rapidly bringing emergency response equipment, including fire-fighting equipment and vehicles, ambulances and cranes along side the ship, to assist or remove persons hurt inside the hull;

Third, the impossibility of allowing cranes to work alongside to lift heavy cut sections of a ship and thereby preventing heavy cut sections from being subject to gravity, shifting or falling directly into workers or into the marine environment; and

Fourthly, there is the absolute incompatibility of conducting hazardous waste management operations (which is what they are as long as ships contain hazardous wastes, in the ecologically delicate and vital coastal zone.

These fatal flaws of the beaching operations inevitably will result in causing avoidable death and pollution. No amount of band-aid guidelines and criteria can cure the malignancy inherent in beaching operations. To expect prevention of adverse effects to human health and the environment from massive toxic ships on an intertidal beach already makes the fulfillment of such objective impossible.

The worst outcome is that by not drawing a clear line at the outset, this fatally flawed beaching operation will get legitimized, millions might be spent into trying to mitigate the inherently inappropriate and dangerous working platform and the Code will have succeeded in perpetuating death and pollution for many years to come.

4. In the Draft Code there is reference to IMO Convention on Ship Recycling, I wish to submit that a vast body of civil society environmental, development human rights, and labor organizations besides the ship breaking industry itself have come together to condemn this Convention as a historical failure, if it cannot muster the political courage to cease the scandalous pretense that scrapping aged ships containing hazardous wastes and oils on ocean beaches in the intertidal zone might be somehow a viable way to achieve the safe and environmentally sound recycling of ships.

The Draft Code and its planners cannot remain “method neutral” as such a statement is “science deficient” in the matter of beaching operations. Such a stance of the Draft Code is morally deficient -- for to be “method neutral” is to be neutral on actual matters of life and death. How many of these deaths could have been prevented were proper equipment such as cranes, fire fighting vehicles, and ambulances been made accessible to the fallen workers?

The fact that countries such as Norway, member States of the EU, the USA, and Japan can pretend that this method is viable is in fact the height of hypocrisy, as such operations would be banned in those countries in an instant for violations of coastal zone management laws, occupational safety and health laws, and hazardous waste management laws.

The Code must include the following text:-"Ship Recycling Facilities authorized by the concerned government agency shall establish and utilize procedures to ensure that ship recycling operations taking place on intertidal flats, or ocean beaches or other working platforms which prevent: rapid access to ships by emergency equipment; the ability to utilize cranes and lifting equipment at all times alongside vessels; and the possibility of full containment of pollutants during all cutting and stripping operations, are prohibited";

Additionally, the Code's Safety Health Environment (SHE) policy should include provisions for technical assistance to GMB with an aim to direct funds toward phasing-out beaching based ship breaking operations and replacing it with dockside, slip, or dry dock platforms as a matter of urgency and responsibility. "Dry dock" does find mention in the draft Code as well.

5. I wish to draw your attention towards the unpardonable and unacceptable act of rampant forgery of documents in the ship breaking industry. The matter of dumping of Platinum II (MV Oceanic, SS Independence), a US ship on fabricated documents illustrated it in the most explicit way. Pursuant to my earlier communications, I got a letter from Director, Union Ministry of Environment & Forests dated 16 December, 2009 in response to my letter dated 10th December, 2009 "regarding "Platinum -II" raising certain issues relating to the ownership and port of registry of the ships arriving at Alang for breaking purposes."

I had argued that most of the ships which entered Indian waters post September 6, 2007 order of the Supreme Court in likelihood came on fake documents. Director, Union Ministry of Environment & Forests wrote to me, "Since Ministry of Steel is the nodal Ministry for shipbreaking activities in the country, your representation has been forwarded to the Ministry of Steel (copy enclosed for ready reference)." I wish to know whether there has been any probe in the matter of ships that have entered Indian waters on fake documents in general and in the particular case of Platinum –II.

6. The Draft Code does not take cognisance of the fact that Basel Convention on was signed by India on 15th March, 1990 and ratified on 24th June, 1992. In keeping with the same, the Code should refer to the recommendations of High Powered Committee headed by Prof. M G K Menon, incorporate Basel Convention's Technical Guidelines for the Environmentally Sound Management of the Full and Partial Dismantling of Ships (attached), Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB)'s Technical Guidelines on Ship breaking and reproduce the ship breaking specific directions of the Supreme Court dated 14th October, 2003 (repeated ad verbatim in the 6th September, 2007 order).

The apex court's order reads, "(16) At the international level, India should participate in international meetings on ship-breaking at the level of the International Maritime Organisation and the Basel Convention's Technical Working Group with a clear mandate for the decontamination of ships of their hazardous sub-stances such as asbestos, waste oil, gas and PCBs, prior to export to India for breaking." One of the fourteen Terms of Reference on which the High Powered Committee was to give its report and recommendations "Decontamination of ships before they are exported to India for breaking.” The apex court's order endorsed Basel Convention. (Order is attached)

The CPCB states in its 'Environmental Guidelines for Shipbreaking industries', "Old vessels containing or contaminated with substances such as PCBs, waste asbestos dust and fibre, lead and lead compounds are accordingly classified as hazardous materials. The customs authority and /or the concerned State Maritime Board should ensure this and issue a certificate to this effect that the vessel is free from prohibited materials." So far IMC has not been able to make Gujarat Maritime Board (GMB) comply with such guidelines.

I have learnt that GMB misled this Supreme Court’s Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC) on Ship breaking into visiting Alang Beach on a holiday because 17th September was a Vishwkarma Puja Day, a holiday to assess the workers living and working condition. In the aftermath of the workers death on October 12, GMB and other concerned agencies must be made to face exemplary punishment

In view of the beleaguered marine environment of the beaches and desperate workers,

I am hopeful of a positive outcome from the deliberations of the IMC.

While the vital steps that I have proposed will be helpful, you may refer to relevant case laws at: http://www.basel.int/ships/relevcaselaw.html as well.

I will be glad to share more information. I will send a detailed comment on the 58 Draft Code shortly.

Thanking you

warm regards
Gopal Krishna
ToxicsWatch Alliance
Focal Point, Platform on Shipbreaking
New Delhi

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Shri S. Machendranathan, Additional Secretary & Financial Adviser, Ministry of Steel

Dr Dalip Singh, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Steel

Sh L Siddhartha Singh, Director, Ministry of Steel

Dr Saroj, Director, Ministry of Environment & Forests

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