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Inter-ministerial panel orders welfare measures for Alang workers

Written By Krishna on Friday, October 19, 2012 | 5:02 AM

Workers’ welfare dominated a meeting of Inter-Ministerial Committee on Ship-breaking (IMC) in Gandhinagar Thursday, a platform where the Alang-Sosiya Ship-Recycling Yard has increasingly hogged the limelight for close to half a decade.

Sources said IMC chairman E K Bharat Bhushan, who was recently moved from the Civil Aviation Ministry, set a two-month deadline within which all workers at Alang are to be registered by the Employees’ State Insurance Corporation (ESIC), which is also to subsequently set up required health facilities under its schemes.

Bhushan also ordered the Gujarat Maritime Board (GMB), the nodal agency at the yard, to begin work on the planned workers’ dormitories within three months, taking exception to the fact that workers continue to live in temporarily built shacks with few facilities while sanitation remains a major concern.

Both these have been contentious issues, with the IMC having discussed them for several years now but with a little progress on the ground. For instance, the yard has just two small health facilities operating for tens of thousands of workers. Also, there is no equipment to deal with potentially deadly emergencies, with ambulance services to Bhavnagar, 50 kms away, far below that required.

ESIC had earlier been asked to register workers and provide facilities such as a full-scale hospital, but disagreements with the Ship Recycling Industries Association (SRIA) snowballed into a court case and no work was taken up thereafter.

The IMC also discussed the recent explosion and fire on board a beached tank-ship that killed six workers and severely injured one more 12 days ago. Several agencies raised the issue that inquiry reports were not shared even among themselves, with some contending that a meeting of all agencies operating at Alang-Sosiya should meet at least once a month to share notes.

Another issue discussed, and agreed upon today was how to dispose of radioactive material found in smoke detectors recovered from recycled ships. The GMB had earlier said that disposal should be done by plot owners who, it has been decided, would do so by sending it to the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, Mumbai.


The strike at Alang-Sosiya Ship-Recycling Yard in Bhavnagar was called off on Wednesday after the BJP’s Rajya Sabha member Mansukh L Mandaviya and other regional business bodies promised to ensure the Ship Recycling Industries Association’s (SRIA) demands are met. The ship-breakers had in fact commenced upon their planned dharna at Bhavnagar’s Rupam Chowk in the morning, but later met with Mandaviya and the heads of the Saurashtra and Bhavnagar Chambers of Commerce and Industry.
“Mandaviya and the Saurashtra and Bhavnagar chambers have promised us that they will ensure our demands are met, so we have decided to call off the strike. Alang will reopen from Thursday onwards,” said Nikhil Gupta, joint-secretary of the SRIA, over phone from Bhavnagar.
The SRIA had spearheaded an agitation against last week’s booking by police of three colleagues under “culpable homicide” charges after six workers were killed by an explosion and fire on-board a beached tank-ship 11 days ago.
Ship-breakers had alleged the police was targeting them for complaining to Gandhinagar that the police were not taking their complaints about rampant night-time thefts at the yard seriously, a charge denied by police as a ploy to deviate attention from the tragedy.
For five days, business at Asia’s largest ship-recycling yard and allied businesses such as the large flea market nearby, rolling mills, furnaces and the like, had virtually halted, besides leaving tens of thousands of workers idle. The daily turnover at Alang, which the shut down disrupted, is estimated at about Rs 25-30 crore.
The tragedy on-board the tank-ship, a 163-metre-long vessel called MT Union Brave, is likely to be on the agenda of a Steel Ministry-headed Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC) meeting scheduled to take place in Gandhinagar on Thursday. The IMC members IMC are also scheduled to visit Alang on Friday.
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