31 August 2012

MoEF clarifies Supreme Court ruling, calms rattled Alang shipbreakers

In an apparent end to the uncertainty over the fate of Asia’s largest ship-recycling yard, the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) has clarified that ship-breaking rules framed under the Supreme Court’s orders in 2007 should be followed at Alang-Sosiya and elsewhere, official sources confirmed to The Indian Express. This would clear the air about the last SC verdict that also mentioned following the Basel Convention norms.

Both ship-recyclers and government agencies with jurisdiction over Alang-Sosiya were befuddled with the wording of the SC’s July 30 judgment that allowed the beaching and subsequent dismantling of the controversial Exxon Valdez.

A bench of Justice Altamas Kabir and Justice J Chelameswar had pronounced, “... in all future cases of a similar nature, the concerned authorities shall strictly comply with the norms laid down in the Basel Convention or any other subsequent provisions that may be adopted by the Central government in aid of a clean and pollution free maritime environment, before permitting entry of any vessel suspected to be carrying toxic and hazardous material into Indian territorial waters.”

The Basel Convention is an international treaty on trans-boundary movement of hazardous wastes that has been ratified by India. Its rules on ship-recycling necessitate “prior informed consent”, “a reporting system for ships destined for recycling”and “pre-decontamination”.

Consequently, recyclers at Alang-Sosiya virtually stopped purchasing end-of-life ships. Those that were anchored offshore and waiting to beach were stranded temporarily given apprehensions by officials who wanted to play safe.

One of the recyclers’ main fears was that if Basel and its rule of prior decontamination of ships at the country of origin is to be followed, dead vessels would have to be towed from foreign countries thereby making it either very expensive or next to impossible to import them. On the other hand, the 2007 rules does not make such demands, have been implemented at Alang-Sosiya since they came into force and have not had major impact on business.

Meanwhile, environmental activists remain sceptical and routinely raise the issue of alleged lack of workers’ safety and waste-management systems at the yard. Lately, they have rued the non-implementation of Basel rules.

Source: Indian Express. 22 August 2012

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