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Open letter to Gujarat Chief Minister on ongoing deaths of north Indian migrant workers on Alang beach

Written By Krishna on Tuesday, October 30, 2012 | 7:27 AM

Open letter to Gujarat Chief Minister, Shri Narendra Damodardas Modi on ongoing deaths of north Indian migrant workers on Alang beach

Dear Shri Modiji,

This is to draw your attention towards yet another death on October 29, 2012 of a north Indian migrant worker from Uttar Pradesh in Bhavnagar’s Sterling Hospital. He succumbed to Gujarat’s Alang beach fire of October 6, 2012 in which several workers were burnt to death while dismantling a British end-of-life ship. I am attaching the picture of a dead body of a migrant worker who died in this fire.   

I submit that during your tenure from 2001 to 2012, officially there have been at least 173 deaths without anyone being made accountable or liable. In your recent interview to India Today magazine (November 5, 2012) you underlined that “600 million Gujaratis are my family”, the migrant workers, the non-Gujaratis who are routinely dying on Alang beach do not appear to be your concern at all.

I submit that the ongoing deaths of migrant workers from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and Odisha on Alang beach, Bhavnagar, Gujarat came to light once again when officially six (now seven) workers were burnt to death on October 6, 2012. Sources have informed that the death toll is higher. These occupational deaths routinely happen. There has nothing been done to arrest these preventable deaths.

I submit that in the year 2011, 27 workers died in the shipbreaking activities at Alang beach.  These migrant casual workers live and work in a slave like condition.

You say “there are 52 islands along the coast of Gujarat. I want to make them tourist attractions of international standard.” During you tenure why is it that you forgot about the fate of Alang coast which is the worst coastal beach in the world.  Gujarat government too 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 your government ignored the similarity between the two.

I wish to draw your attention towards UN Special Rapporteur's report based on his visit t o Alang beach in January 2010. 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 3 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 your government has failed to ensure that the guilty officials and ship breakers are made accountable. In the context of the recent deaths if you were sensitive you 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 the recent inspection by Shri E K Bharat Bhushan led 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 2012 onwards have not been implemented by your government. 

I submit that after each accident and death of workers, inquiry is ordered but their report remains classified and no action has been taken. All the migrant workers who became victims in the fire of October 6, 2012 in Plot no. 82 on Alang beach belonged to Uttar Pradesh. The deceased were identified as Hiralal Chaudhary (28), Ajay Chaudhary (22), Ram Milan (35), Sanjay Yadav (25), Subhash Yadav (28) and Dharmendra Chaudhary. It is not clear whether IMC team inquired about the compensation given to these workers. The half burnt person Ram Singh Sahai remains in the hospital died yesterday. Only a high level probe can bring out the names of the others who are dead but whose whereabouts has not been disclosed so far.  The workers who officially died included three from Basti and three from Gorakhpur. The one from Basti include Hiralal, s/o Ram Kishun, village/post Bharapur, Ajay Chaudhary, s/o Satyendra Chaudhary, village-Chakda, Post- Kalwani. Your 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 as per Hon’ble Supreme Court order 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 at present the migrant workers in Alang who face discrimination for being Hindi 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. British East India Company entered India through Surat ungovernable shipping companies which are bigger than several governments has entered through Alang beach. In 17th century, Gujarati businessmen facilitated western imperialism of India by welcoming a company. At present 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 environmental and occupational health crisis due to hazardous industrial activities on Alang beach, the huge dangers from the shipbreaking industry to local communities and the environment remained unaddressed during your tenure so far.

I am enclosing a list of workers who have been killed on Alang beach. You are addressing election rallies both in north India and in Gujarat, as a fellow Indian and as a non-Gujarati from north India; I want to know how your government has given justice to them.

Gopal Krishna
ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA)
New Delhi

Year wise deaths of migrant workers at Alang beach

Number of Deaths at Alang

Source: Office of Senior Inspector of Factories, Alang, Dist. Bhavnagar and Sandesh news paper, Bhavnagar edition report of October 7, 2012, complied by ToxicsWatch Alliance   

Note: The number of deaths mentioned could be less than reported by other sources. A possible explanation for this discrepancy may be that seriously injured workers may not have been treated in the local hospital and may have died there. The reason could be deliberate suppression of information to escape paying compensation. Since 1998 till 2012 there were 389 workers who are injured officially. In the last 15 years, there have been 316 fire incidents in which 49 workers died as per Sandesh news paper, Bhavnagar edition report of October 10, 2012.   

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