15 December 2011

Draft Shipbreaking Guidelines for Bangladesh: SC directives ignored

The industries ministry has drafted a guideline on shipbreaking and recycling without complying with the Supreme Court directive to follow the environmental laws for preparing such guideline.

Experts say some sections of the draft that allows import of ships with hazardous substances go against many rules and laws for preventing environmental pollution and ensuring workers' safety. The Supreme Court, however, gave directives to prepare the guideline in line with the laws.

The draft is based on the abolished Factory Law, 1965 and the Hong Kong Convention that will not take effect before 2015.

“They cannot follow the Factory Law, which was abolished in 2006 through formulation of Bangladesh Labour Law,” said Iqbal Kabir, a lawyer of Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers' Association.

The draft allows import of warships, nuclear-powered ships and large passenger vessels. But the existing laws prohibit imports of these ships.

The draft will be placed in the cabinet today for approval, said a ministry official wishing anonymity.

The draft says importers should submit lists of “on board” hazardous waste, if any, but it did not mention anything about “in built” hazardous materials that are used to build ships. These “in built” substances with high toxicity may cause deadly diseases such as cancer.

The Chittagong coast is already exposed to deadly hazardous materials such as asbestos, polyurethane foam and other heavy metals, and liquid organic waste from shipbreaking yards in Sitakunda.

If these substances get scattered in the sea by cyclones or tidal surge, they will cause severe sea pollution, says a recent World Bank report. It said if the current trend continues, Bangladesh's coastline will face more environmental pollution than Pakistan in the next two decades.

The industries ministry kept the draft's English version posted on its website for a month till December 4, asking for suggestions from the stakeholders concerned.

But the ministry did not take views of marginal workers although the guideline is meant to ensure their safety.

At least 36 workers were killed and many others injured in accidents at shipbreaking yards in the last 40 months. These deaths could have been averted if adequate safety precautions had been taken at those yards.

The Supreme Court directed the government to formulate a set of rules by December 14 to free the shipbreaking industry from pollution and ensure workers' safety. It also asked the industries ministry secretary to appear before the court with a copy of government gazette on the rules.

However, the court asked the ministry to prepare the draft on the basis of the “Basel Convention on the Control of Trans-boundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal” and five other laws.

On December 15 last year, an HC bench asked the government to frame rules in the light of the six existing laws.

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

Industries Ministry Secretary KH Masud Siddiqui said, “We tried our best to comply with the Supreme Court directives.”

He admitted that the new guideline is based on the Hong Kong Convention, and said they had taken into consideration stakeholders' observations while drafting the guideline.

The government in February decided to give the shipbreaking industry a formal shape by bringing the sector under the rules of business of the industries ministry.

Earlier, the environment and forest ministry prepared a guideline on shipbreaking and recycling. The government published a gazette on it on February 28.

The guideline contained some provisions for reducing environmental pollution and ensuring workers' safety. But the industries ministry ignored the guideline while drafting the latest one.

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

Source: The Daily Star. By Pinaki Roy. 12 December 2011

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