Alang workers live & work in Guantánamo Bay like condition
UN Special Rapportour Shocked by Dumping of Obsolete Ships on Gujarat Beach & Workers’ Plight
Gujarat Maritime Board takes Central Team on Ship-breaking for a ride
A central government’s team led by S. Machendranathan, Additional Secretary & Financial Adviser and Dr Dalip Singh, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Steel visited Alang Beach, Bhavnagar, Gujarat on 17th September evening on a Vishwkarma Puja Day, a holiday to assess the workers living and working condition. Notably, Gujarat Maritime Board (GMB) misled this Supreme Court’s Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC) on Ship breaking into visiting Alang Beach on a holiday! A Round Table on “Ship Owners Liability for Enviro-occupational Exposures on Alang Beach & Global Shipping Industry” on 15 September held in New Delhi took note of the IMC’s visit to Bhavnagar and Alang and issued statement seeking removal of ship breaking industrial operations from the Alang beach. (Statement of Labour & Environmental Groups on Shipping Industry attached)
While IMC’s site visit merits appreciation for it has directed strictly to GMB and Shipbreakers to sort out the issue of housing facilities for workers in the shipbreaking industry within three months and report to IMC. It has taken serious note of inaction by the GMB and shipbreakers with regard to housing, hospital facilities, sanitation and occupational health rights of workers, the unregulated industrial operations in the fragile coastal environment is unpardonable and unacceptable. IMC is also seized with the issue of ship owners’ liability and rampant forgery of documents in Alang in the aftermath of the dumping of Platinum II, a US ship on fabricated documents.
There is a grave apprehension that most of the end-of-life ships that entered Indian waters after the Supreme Court’s order of September 2007 (Justice Arijit Pasayat and Justice S H Kapadia Bench) have indulged in forgery of documents that merits high level probe. Letters requesting for the same has been sent to the Home Minister.
The migrant causal workers of Alang who come from Bihar, UP, Jharkhand and Orissa live and work in conditions akin to the detainees of Guantánamo Bay Military Detention Centre of US who exist like slaves with no human rights. If Alang beach and its industrial operations are made accessible to media, it would emerge that the war against slavery is far from over.
Earlier, the 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, Prof. Okechukwu Ibeanu during his 10-day mission, from 11 to 21 January 2010, the Special Rapporteur 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. (Prof Ibeanu’s statement is here.)
Prof. Ibeanu 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. ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA) 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.
The Supreme Court’s committee on Shipbreaking comprises of members from Ministry of Shipping, Ministry of Environment and Forests (MOEF), Ministry of Labour, Gujarat Maritime Board (GMB), Central Pollution Control Board, Indian Steel Scrap and Ship breakers Association of India (ISSSAI) etc. for the implementation of court Orders and other related functions. The apex court had asked for the inclusion of labour and environmental groups in the committee but the same has not been done till date.
The participants of the Round Table were severely critical of the free trade agreements, role of GMB, Ministry of Shipping and UN’s International Maritime Organisation (IMO)’s Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) that has been working at the behest of the ship owners from developed countries. IMO has misled the ship recycling counties to adopt an International Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships.*
Environmental and labour groups of India in particular and South Asia in general have called for the boycott of this anti-environment and anti-labour treaty. Even the shipbreaking industry is opposed to this treaty and is beginning to see the merit in the Basel Convention and its Basel Ban Amendment.
So far the Convention has been signed, subject to ratification or acceptance, by France, Italy, the Netherlands, Saint Kitts and Nevis and Turkey. Turkey, one of the five major ship recycling nations in the world, has signed this regressive treaty. The Round Table underlined the double standards of European countries like France and the Netherlands who appear to be hand in glove with countries like Japan to promote unregulated free trade in hazardous wastes through Free Trade Agreements by undermining Basel Convention and Basel Ban Amendment and becoming party to IMO’s treaty that allows ongoing contamination of South Asian beaches of Alang, Chittagong (Bangladesh) and Gadani (Pakistan).
Environmental health groups are opposed to Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) including one with the European Union (EU) and Japan that allows status quo to continue with regard to hazardous waste trade. Government of India is highly secretive about the agreements with Japanese government and EU. These groups have been campaigning against the India-Japan FTA and India-EU FTA that entails such free trade. The Round Table welcomed the order of Bangladesh’s High Court Division dated 11 May, 2010 requiring pre-cleaning/decontamination of vessels imported into Bangladesh for breaking purposes. The earlier orders and the order of 11 May, 2010 in specific required that all vessels to be imported for breaking must be decontaminated at source and outside the territory of Bangladesh. Following the Court’s order the Import Policy Order was amended to ensure that the pre-cleaning certificates are produced by the authorized agents of the exporting state. This amendment was changed on request from the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) that purported to allow ships to enter Bangladesh with in-built, poisonous and cancerous substances for the safe disposal of which Bangladesh does not have minimum facilities. With blessings from the MoEF, the ship breakers continued to import dirty ships that eventually had to stop by virtue of the order of 11 May, 2010. In India, in the last session of Parliament, Jairam Ramesh informed that he has written to the Ministries of Commerce and Finance seeking their assistance in regulating the hazardous waste trade but so far there has been no progress and hazardous waste trade continues to be promoted by the Commerce Ministry, which is quite disturbing.
It is noteworthy that Japan launched a new waste initiative and venue at the G8 summit in 2004. The aim of this initiative is contrary to the prime objectives of the Basel Convention that sought minimization of transboundary movement of hazardous waste, Japan’s 3R Initiative calls for lifting of trade barriers for waste and for the free movement of recyclable materials, including toxic wastes, within a regional context. Using its financial muscle it has dictated the agenda of the 3R Initiative to promote regional waste trade schemes. Its interest in hazardous waste treatment facilities and ship-breaking yards at Alang Beach is illustrative of the same.
Japan is on a prowl to kill the Basel Convention through its Economic Partnership Agreements. In 2008, it signed ASEAN-Japan Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement to promote waste trade hold in the region. ASEAN is 13 member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The same is being replicated in India. At the last Conference of Parties to UN’s Basel Convention on Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes, Japan proactive role to stop the crucial Ban Amendment, 1995 from coming into force was intriguing. With the unfolding of Japan’s FTAs with other Asian countries, it is clear that it wants to re-define toxic waste as non-waste. It’s a case of linguistic corruption. A similar Partnership Agreements has been challenged in the Supreme Court of Philippines.
It has reliably been learnt that the Commerce Ministry will seek the Cabinet’s approval soon for the India-Japan free trade agreement (FTA) likely to be signed during the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s forthcoming visit to Tokyo in October although its anti-environment. Japan-India FTA and India-EU FTA will makes it difficult for India to impose a trade ban on toxic wastes which is an expressed right enjoyed by any sovereign state and is acknowledged by the Basel Convention. India must ratify Basel Ban Amendment instead of making itself vulnerable to toxic waste imports.
The participants of the Round Table included trade unions, environmental groups, lawyers, researchers and media persons.
New Delhi 20/9/2010
For Details: Gopal Krishna, ToxicsWatch Alliance, Mb: 9818089660,
P K Ganguly, Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), Mb: 9968214082
H Mahadevan, All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), Mb: 9818120885
Ashim Roy/ Rakhi Sehgal, New Trade Union Initiative (NTUI), Mb: 9911599955
Manicandan, International Metal Worker’s Federation, Mb: 9868319261
Grazia Cioci, Platform on Shipbreaking, Mb: +32 (0)495 832441
Note: IMO treaty will enter into force 24 months after the date on which 15 States, representing 40 per cent of world merchant shipping by gross tonnage, have either signed it without reservation as to ratification, acceptance or approval, or have deposited instruments of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession with the IMO’s Secretary-General. The combined maximum annual ship recycling volume of those States during the preceding 10 years must constitute not less than 3 per cent of their combined merchant shipping tonnage. It’s an industry sponsored treaty.