24 November 2011

Supreme Court's firm move against hazardous shipbreaking: New set of rules by December 14 stressed

The Supreme Court directive on the government to frame a set of rules by December 14 to counter escalating hazards posed by shipbreaking industry in Shitakundu is emphatic. The apex court also makes it mandatory for the government to stop conditional import of scrap ships. We heartily welcome the directive and hope that it will help put an end to the environment pollution and loss of workers' lives.

As we know it, the workers in the Shitakundu shipbreaking yards work in an extremely unsafe environment having no protection whatsoever. Every laid-off ship to be cut into pieces for scrap recycling contains poisonous substances such as asbestos, PCB, PVC and lubricants that expose the workers to serious health hazards. Furthermore, in the absence of necessary safety gears, they are heavily exposed to fatal accidents.

In this year alone 16 workers were killed in 8 separate accidents with 6 of them dying from an incident of toxic gas poisoning last month.

More alarmingly, all these non-recyclable wastes are dumped into the Bay of Bengal, thus contaminating our coastal soil and sea water on a massive scale and consequently jeopardizing the ecological balance. The resultant impact is all too predictable: A number of fish species became extinct to the peril of thousands of fishermen living along the coast.

It was in March 2009 that the High Court issued a directive asking the government to stop unregulated import of scrap ships and formulate rules to ensure scrapyard workers' safety. Instead of going by the directive, the environmental ministry has since continued dillydallying. Only recently, against a petition filed by Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers' Association (Bela) the SC has intervened and asked the environmental ministry decisively to abide by its directive.

The economic necessity of shipbreaking, considering the rising demand of steel, cannot be overemphasized. But the current indiscriminate import of scrap ships is completely unacceptable. Shipbreaking industry also exists in India, Pakistan and China so that there is enough to learn about how they are regulating entry of unwanted ships into their territories. This present SC directive should be taken seriously by the government to urgently formulate a new set of rules based on international conventions and other related national laws on environment protection.

Source: The Daily Star. 23 November 2011

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