This group tracks the responses of shipping industry towards environmental health concerns, highlights influence of shipping companies from EU, US and Japan etc on IMO and its Marine Environment Protection Committee & South Asian governments. It is keen to restore beaches in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan to their pristine glory for the coming generations. For more information visit: www.toxicswatch.org, banasbestosindia.blogspot.com

08/07/2009

Many Faces of Alang Beach

Preliminary Findings of Independent Visit to Alang Beach post Supreme Court Order of September 2007 & Adoption of IMO Treaty May 2009

July 2009
New Delhi

Fact Finding Team

1. Villagers & fishermen from Alang and surrounding areas
2. Federico Demaria, Ecological economics researcher
3. Gopal Krishna, Environment health researcher
4. A Zoologist
5. A Microbiologist
6. A Safety Officer
7. A Trade Union leader

Summary:
Findings of the first visit by independent observers after the September 2007 Supreme Court's order, the adoption of a new treaty on ship breaking by International Maritime Organisation (IMO) in May 2009 and the retirement of Hon'ble Justice Arijit Pasayat are quite revealing of how our environmental borders have been compromised despite the existence of national and international laws.

The findings capture many faces of Alang beach. It includes hitherto un-accessed academic research findings about the Alang beach and a large number of rare pictures of Alang.

The observations are in contrary to what was noted by at least two visits in January 2008 and January 2009 by an international delegation led by officials of International Maritime Organisation, UNEP, EU and Indian officials from the Ministry of Shipping among others.

Introduction
Alang beach faces indiscriminate disposal of waste material viz, oil, cotton, dead cargo of inorganic material like hydrated/solidified elements, thermocol pieces, glass wool, rubber, broken tiles, etc. The use of the beach for a hazardous industrial activity started in 1982 in the pre-Environment Protection Act, 1986 era. Even after the enactment of Act nothing has been done so far to remediate beach for posterity. The toxic materials emerge from the obsolete ships that come from the developed countries for disposal. “Decontamination of ships before they are exported to India for breaking" is mandatory as per Indian Supreme Court’s order on Hazardous Wastes dated 14th October, 2003. This progressive order upheld the UN’s Basel Convention on Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes & Their Disposal. But it has been followed only in violation. The case has been going on in the court since 1995 where Union Ministry of Environment & Forests is the Respondent. While fighting this case on behalf of the petitioner, Sanjay Parikh, a well known public interest lawyer has revealed the limitations of environmental jurisprudence and the contrast it presents in comparison to European and US standards.

At least three Supreme Court committees have looked into the plight of the Alang beach and the industrial operations but nothing has changed at all.

On September 6, 2007, the Supreme Court bench held that “It is desirable that the Government of India shall formulate a comprehensive Code incorporating the recommendations and the same has to be operative until the concerned Statutes are amended to be in line with the recommendations. Until the Code comes into play, the recommendations shall be operative by virtue of this order.” Although almost 2 years have passed, the code is not ready as yet. Admittedly, there is no capacity to test generation of persistent organic pollutants, and complete containment of all gaseous, liquid and solid residues. Asbestos wastes, and its total quantities of such waste remains unknown.

Now a new UN treaty has been adopted in May 2009 (which is unlikely to come into effect and even if does it would not be before 2016) is an attempt to undo the work done by the global environmental movement of the past to legislate and regulate through the UN’s Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal, which has been endorsed by the Supreme Court of India. The treaty does nothing to prevent hazardous wastes such as asbestos, PCBs, old fuels, from being exported to the poorest communities and most desperate workers in developing countries and ignores Polluter Pays/Producer Responsibility Principle, Environmental Justice/Transfer no Harm Principles, Waste Prevention/Substitution Principles and Principle of Environmentally Sound Management.

The treaty promotes externalization of cost of pollution that was so infamously championed by the Lawrence Summers, the Chief Economist, World Bank (currently the Chief Economic Advisor, US President) so that real costs and liabilities of ships at end-of-life gets transferred to developing countries like India.

Local regulations such as in India requiring that imported products meet local standards on such matters as recycling, toxic substances, labelling and inspection has been easily overruled so far. This treaty makes such violations legitimate. Consequently, environmental and worker groups reject this act of legislation by IMO, a UN body on a subject which is beyond its competence and jurisdiction.

The adoption of the treaty is akin to writing the obituary of the UN's Basel Convention on Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal through the existing text of the IMO treaty on ship breaking /ship recycling. Basel Convention is a UN treaty controlling such hazardous wastes with 170 member countries and prohibiting the export of all hazardous wastes to developing countries, and they have adopted shipbreaking guidelines calling for a phase-out of the use of beaches for breaking ships.

A European Parliament resolution has also condemned the breaking of ships on beaches this year but Europeans countries chose to adopt the treaty with such condemnable practice. Ships are dismantled primarily for secondary steel but ships are laden with hazardous waste and substances such as asbestos, oily wastes, PCBs and toxic paints. Notably, the issue of radioactive secondary steel and hazards from it remained unaddressed.

Trade Unions and NGOs working in the fields of workers rights, human rights, environment, and health, express total lack of faith in the proposed UN treaty on Ship Breaking/ Ship Recycling through IMO because its the provisions in the treaty are regressive in nature.

It ends up giving incentives to those companies who exploit workers and pollute coastal environment. It is sad that now international legal provisions regulating trade in dead and obsolete ships would be in a suspension of sort.

Ship breaking/ Ship Recycling is industrial activity for the production of secondary steel. In any case IMO has no competence to deal with such an industrial process which is competent only in maritime matters.

The text of the IMO Convention on the Safe Recycling of Ships is a text that has been prepared at the behest of the by the global shipping industry in general and European ship owning countries and ship owners in particular.

Current legal regime legitimizes the ongoing exploitation of workers, villagers and the marine environment at the end of the life of a ship. As long the ship breaking operations has continued and continues on the once pristine Alang beach there has not been and there will never bee safety either for migrant workers or for the coastal environment.

Fact Finding Survey
Between May, 2009 and July 2009, the Fact Finding Team visited Alang and the villages in its vicinity several times besides visiting Central Salt & Marine Chemicals Research Institute, Bhavnagar and at least four departments of Bhavnagar University accessing their studies.

Survey Observations
1. Illegal Appropriation of Beach Land
2. Illegal Dumping of Waste on Beaches
3. Illegal Dumping of hazardous materials like asbestos in the agricultural fields
4. Illegal Dumping of Waste & chemicals in the sea
5. Radioactive Materials ignored
6. Disappearance of certain species of fishes
7. Ill Treatment of Migrant Workers from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand and, Orissa, their living condition and their worst occupational health situation
8. Illegal sand mining on the beach

Recommendations
Based on the interactions and discussion with the villagers, fishermen, workers, officials along with the perusal of the academic research available in Central Salt & Marine Chemicals Research Institute, a CSIR unit Bhavnagar and at least four departments of Bhavnagar University and our observations on the beach and in Alang surroundings we make the following recommendations:

1. Stop ongoing contamination of once pristine beach of Alang
2. Take industrial activity off the beach to protect vulnerable migrant workers and coastal environment
3. Disassociate with the new IMO treaty on ship breaking that fails to stop the fatally flawed technique of breaking ships through “beaching method”, where ships are cut open in the sea and tidal flats of the beach in a method in which it is impossible to contain oils and toxic contaminants from entering the marine environment, bring lifting cranes along side ships to lift heavy cut pieces or to rescue workers and bring emergency equipment (ambulances, fire trucks) to the workers or the ships Protect the fragile inter-tidal coastal zone from the hazardous wastes on ships.
4. Removal of ship breaking/ ship recycling operations from the beach.
5. Protection of marine environment from pollution
6. Ensure that ship owners and ship owning countries escape accountability for their contaminated ships
7. Make public the names and health records of some 40, 000 workers employed in the ship-breaking activity
8. Researchers and journalists should have open access to Alang beach because hiding the wounds inflicted on ecosystem does not mean it would disappear. It might be already too late for remedial measures
9. Take note of the fact that tidal beach whose soft sands cannot support crucial safety measures such as heavy lifting or emergency response equipment and which allow pollution to seep directly into the delicate coastal zone environment. No country in the developed world allows ships to be broken on their beaches
10. Ship breaking is possible with proper technologies and infrastructure but only away from the ecologically sensitive beaches and enforced regulations however most ship-owners choose to sell their ships through dubious cash buyers in tax havens by under reporting the price thus indulging in a black economy

For Details
: Gopal Krishna, E-mail: krishnagreen@gmail.com
Federico Demaria, E-mail:federicodemaria@hotmail.com

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