04 October 2012

108 ambulance service on cards for Alang shipbreaking workers:

The state-run Gujarat Maritime Board on Thursday signed a memorandum of understanding with GVK EMRI for providing 108 ambulance service at Alang-Sosiya Ship-Recycling Yard in Bhavnagar district where at least 10 workers have died in the last two years because of lack of emergency medical services.

“We have been petitioning the district collector and officials in Gandhinagar for this for more than one-and-a-half years,” a senior official at Alang-Sosiya told The Indian Express.

Though most workers at Asia’s largest ship-recycling facility now wear helmets, gloves, jump-suits and, when necessary, protective goggles, fatalities still happen due to the hazardous nature of the shipbreaking work, which involves cutting open chunks of steel and iron using blow-torches and the presence of heavy industrial machinery.

Alang-Sosiya has just two health facilities — an understaffed nine-bed hospital run by the Red Cross Society and a small clinic run by a private doctor. Neither have necessary facilities to treat potentially fatal emergencies, and there is no ambulance. An orthopaedic doctor comes in once a week, and medical staff are almost never present towards the evenings.

Persons who have witnessed accidents at the yard say it takes an hour for any ambulance to reach the yard via a 50-km, two-lane state highway from Bhavnagar city.

Inadequate health facilities at Alang was first discussed in January 2005 by an inter-ministerial committee on ship-breaking, but not much has been done as yet.

At subsequent meetings, the committee variously discussed proposals for the state’s Health Commissionerate to run a hospital there, that Bhavnagar Medical College could start an Out-Patient Department there, that the Red Cross hospital should be equipped, that a modern hospital with X-ray machines, CT scans, a blood bank and an operation theatre must be established, and that the state-run Employees State Insurance Corporation (ESIC) must run the hospital and register workers.

But seven years on, there is still little progress. Even the ESIC takeover is being delayed by an ongoing case in the Gujarat High Court. While ESIC contends there are not enough registered workers at Alang-Sosiya to warrant a 100-bed hospital, owners of ship-breaking yards say they will accept nothing less.

Meanwhile, a senior ESIC official told The Indian Express that the corporation cannot begin even the basic enrollment of workers at the yard till the case is settled.

Source: 28 September 2012.

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