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Ongoing deaths of migrant workers on Gujarat’s Alang beach, Bhavnagar

Written By Unknown on Wednesday, March 12, 2014 | 9:21 AM

ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA)

National Human Rights Commission
Manav Adhikar Bhawan
Block-C, GPO Complex, INA,
New Delhi – 110023

Date: March 12, 2014

Subject- Ongoing deaths of migrant workers on Gujarat’s Alang beach, Bhavnagar


This is 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. The names of 2 out of the 5 workers is Panshu Pradhan Bhaskar Pradhan aged 26 years and Bishwanath Gulabbhai Gaud aged 30 years. These two workers are from Ganjam District in Odisha.  Reliable sources have informed that 2 more workers have succumbed to injury. According to Ship Recycling Industries Association (India), Plot No. 20 belongs to Panchvati Ship Breakers which is represented by Harshadbhai Padia.  

It may be noted that the accident happened at 9 PM in violation of the 74 page long Code on Regulations for Safe and Environmentally Sound Ship Recycling of Government of India. The relevant working hours is mentioned at Page no 44.

I spoke to the officials in Gujarat and have reliably learnt that a total of 5 workers suffered during the fatal accident after an iron plate fell on them. Three other workers are also in a critical condition and have been admitted in a private hospital in Bhavnagar by the Plot Holder. 

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 Dr Prodipto Ghosh Committee. The compensation regime under the Ship Recycling Regulations, 2006 is outdated and has not been inflation adjusted.  The Port Officer, Mr Kharadi informed me on phone on March 12, 2014 that penalty has been imposed as per these Rules.  

I submit that Ship Recycling Regulations, 2006 reads: “In case of fatal accident, permission holder shall have to pay Rs. One lac to the Gujarat Maritime Board by way of penalty which will be deposited in the Workers Welfare Fund maintained by Gujarat Maritime Board. Provided further, the permission holder shall have to pay Rs.2-00 lacs to the heirs of deceased person who has lost his life in the accident.” As per Ship Recycling regulations, 2006 the “Permission holder” means a person to whom permission is granted for utilizing ship breaking plot for beaching and recycling ships.

I submit that as per the Draft Code under the Section MISCELLANEOUS AND PENALTY PROVISIONS at page no. 47-48, it was provided that “the ship-recycler shall immediately pay a minimum ex-gratia compensation of Rs.200000/- (Rupees two lakhs only) per person or more as decided by the SMB or Port Authority/ Port Trust from time to time to the next kin of the deceased and Rs.50000/- (Rupees Fifty thousand only) per case or more as may be decided by the Board from time to time to the injured victim, over and above the compensation that may be received by the next kin of the deceased or the injured victim from insurance claim or under any other enactment including Workman Compensation Act and Employee State Insurance Scheme (ESIC).” This provision under the Section titled MISCELLANEOUS AND PENALTY PROVISIONS of the final Code has been inhumanly omitted due to the tremendous influence of ship breakers on some gullible, docile or colluding official who finalized the Code. The Commission may consider recommending its inclusion of MISCELLANEOUS AND PENALTY PROVISIONS as provided in the Draft Code with more stringent provisions.  
I submit that monetary compensation is hardly sufficient to deal with these ongoing deaths of migrant workers on Gujarat’s Alang beach in Bhavnagar.  

I submit 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.”

It is not clear as yet whether the office of the Deputy Director Industrial Safety and Health, Alang has issued prohibitory order in the present case of March 11, 2014 and whether criminal case has been lodged or not. In an earlier case when a ship breaker was arrested on death of workers, the ship breakers went on strike to save their fellow ship breaker from imprisonment. The ship breaker in question was released on bail.  

I spoke to Mr P D Vyas, Chief Fire Officer, Alang, Gujarat on March 12, 2014 who stated that there was no fire accident in this case.

I submit that the Commission may consider inviting and examining reports of criminal prosecution in the present case of March 11, 2014 and in the previous cases.  

I submit that there is an urgent need to issue notices to Government of Gujarat, Government of Odisha, Union Ministry of Labour and Union Ministry of Steel.   

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. Earlier one worker died in an accident at Alang ship-breaking yard on December 6, 2013 after an iron plate fell on his head. The deceased has been identified as 37 years old Shambhuram Rajvanshi from Uttar Pradesh. The accident took place on Plot No. 2 of the yard located at Alang beach. He was immediately taken to a private hospital at Bhavnagar where he was declared dead. It has not come to light as to what did Government of Gujarat do to ensure justice to the worker and what steps were initiated to ensure that such accidents and deaths do not happen in future.

I submit that there was an incident of fire broke in Plot No. 48. on January 13, 2013. I am attaching the picture of a dead body of a migrant worker who died earlier in October 2012 in the aftermath of the death of six labourers in October, 2012 who were burnt to death.
I submit that during 2001 to March 2014, there have been some 200 deaths without anyone being made accountable or liable.
I submit that the ongoing deaths of migrant workers from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and Odisha on Alang beach, Bhavnagar, Gujarat keeping come to light but nothing has been done to arrest these preventable deaths.
I submit that in the year 2011, 27 workers died in the ship breaking activities at Alang beach. 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 Gujarat 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. 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 these workers were adequately compensated. 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. Gujarat 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).

In view of the above, I seek Commission’s urgent intervention to migrant workers and local communities from the hazardous industrial activities on Alang beach that has remained unaddressed so far.

Thanking You

Yours faithfully
Gopal Krishna
ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA)
A-124/6, First Floor, Katwaria Sarai,
New Delhi 110 016
Phone: +91-11-26517814
Fax: +91-11-26517814
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