24 November 2011

No more conditional import of toxic ships in Bangladesh:

Industries secretary asked to appear at SC with shipbreaking rules on Dec 14

The Supreme Court yesterday directed the government to frame by December 14 a set of rules to free the shipbreaking industry from pollution and ensure safety of the workers.

It ordered the industries secretary to appear before it with a copy of gazette notification on the rules at noon on that day.

The order came upon a petition against a High Court order that extended the time limit for conditional import of toxic ships for scraps. Bangladesh Environment Lawyers Association (Bela) filed the petition in May.

A 7-member bench of the Appellate Division of the SC headed by Chief Justice Md Muzammel Hossain also rejected a government prayer for extending the HC order that had permitted conditional import of toxic ships. Attorney General Mahbubey Alam moved the prayer.

In last 40 months, at least 36 shipbreaking workers were killed and many injured in accidents that could have been averted by having adequate safety precautions.

In March 2009, the High Court directed the government not to allow import of any hazardous vessels and to draw up rules and operational guidelines for ensuring safety of the workers.

Despite the court orders, the environment ministry issued temporary clearance certificates and delayed making the rules.

Instead of taking measures to improve the working conditions at the shipbreaking yards, the owners appealed to the High Court to allow them to import toxic ships.

Bela's counsel Iqbal Kabir Lytton told The Daily Star that no toxic ships could be imported now since the apex court had not given any permission to that end.

During yesterday's hearing, Fida M Kamal, chief counsel for Bela, told the court that the Appellate Division and High Court Divisions at different times since 2006 had directed the government to frame rules for freeing the industry from pollution and for ensuring workers' safety.

But the government has yet to comply with the directives, he added.

On December 15 last year, an HC bench headed by Justice M Imman Ali, now an Appellate Division judge, asked the government to frame rules in light of 6 existing laws within the next 3 months. The bench also restricted import of ships till framing of the rules.

The 6 laws are -
Ø    The Basel Convention Act, 1989;
Ø    Bangladesh Environment Protection Act, 1995;
Ø    Bangladesh Marine and Fisheries Ordinance, 1989;
Ø    Bangladesh Labour Act, 2006;
Ø    Bangladesh Territorial Water and Maritime Zone Act, 1974; and
Ø    Environment Protection Rules, 1997.

Following a petition filed by Bangladesh Ship Breakers Association, another HC bench headed by Justice AHM Shamsuddin Chowdhury Manik on March 7 this year permitted import of toxic ships for 2 months and directed the government to formulate rules by that time.

The HC on May 7 extended its March 7 order for another 2 months.

Meanwhile, the HC bench headed by Justice AHM Shamsuddin Chowdhury on July 21 extended till October 12 its order allowing conditional import and dismantling of toxic ships. It, however, said the importers and shipbreakers must ensure that the workers and the environment were not exposed to any danger.

Hearing a petition of Bela, the same bench on October 27 said it would not extend its order permitting import of toxic ships.

It also issued 4 directives on the government to ensure safety of the scrapyard workers.

Source: The Daily Star. 22 November 2011

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