Situated at the shores of Gujarat about 50

Situated at the shores of Gujarat
about 50 km from the city of Bhavnagar, stands the world’s largest
ship–breaking industry in Alang. A graveyard for around 450 ships annually who
find their way to its shores after being deemed unfit for any future use, Alang
startles the world with its capacity to not only host the bustle at such a
large scale but also with the pleasing worth it has generated in the process.
The yard, since it became operational in 1983 has been growing every year and is
estimated to generate a good ?6,000 crores. Started as an initiative by the
state government for generating employment to a large number of unskilled work-force,
it now employs not only the local population but has attracted over the years
cheap labor from around the country; majority of them being from Odisha,
Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal.

 

Ship-breaking
is a process that involves breaking down and dismantling the discarded vessel by removing all gears and equipments,
cutting down of the vessel into small parts and recycling it. This
activity, prior to 1983, was hosted by the select shipyards of Taiwan, Mexico,
Spain, Brazil and Great Britain. Owing to the high cost of labor in developed
countries coupled with their stringent environmental norms and human rights
issues, these countries have found it
profitable to get their hands off the waste at a highly inexpensive price by
disposing their discarded vessels at the shores of Alang.

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India as a
result becomes the cream of the crop in ship-breaking industries globally, for
its minimal norms on paper and their meagre implementation. It is followed by Pakistan
and Bangladesh who remain weak solely due to their size.

 

Alang holds
around 173 plots to carry out the recycling and dismantling activity providing
employment to around 30,000 unorganised jobs directly in Alang and thousand others
are provided employment opportunities indirectly in allied industries.  

 

Nonetheless, the city pays a
heavy price for its good fortune. The structural complexity of the ships together with the safety
concerns, environmental and health issues makes the industry an eyebrow raiser.
The exposure of workers to harmful chemicals and disposal of substances like
asbestos, polychlorinated biphenyls, lead, mercury and chlorofluorocarbons in
the environment makes the industry a dangerous one for work. In addition,
regular
cases of oil spilling into the water have led to contaminating the marine
ecology around the area. The workers have to
struggle to even get access to the basic facilities such as water,
toilet, shelter, sanitation, electricity, proper drainage systems. The migrant
workers cannot avail any government schemes implemented for the local village
people in and around the ship-breaking yards.

 

 

 A 2014 study commissioned by the National
Human Rights Commission found that there have been 470 ‘reported’ deaths
between 1983 and 2013. In December last year,
another worker died as a result of the fire that broke out in tankers that were
being dismantled in the yard.

 

In this
connection, it is important to mention that the Final Report of the Supreme
Court-appointed Technical Experts Committee has revealed the pathetic situation
faced by these workers:

 

The average annual incidence of
fatal accidents in the ship breaking industry is 2.0 per 1,000 workers while
the all India incidence of fatal accidents during the same period in the mining
industry, which is considered to be the most accident-prone industry, is 0.34
per 1,000 workers.

 

These facts
provide the first official confirmation of Alang’s long-standing notoriety as a
hazardous and highly unsafe industry violating human rights.

 

India has
often overlooked the environmental norms for the purpose of expanding its
economic participations. These lax norms and their improper implication coupled
by beauracratic delays, corruption and unethical practices have together woven
the sad story of Alang.

 

A study of
the journey of the ship named ‘Blue-Lady’ to the ports of Alang (2006) provides
useful insight to how far such concerns have come into conflict with economic
objectives and how strong is India’s stands as a watchdog for social and
environmental concerns.

 

A year ago,
the same ship was denied entry into Bangladesh because of the hazardous waste
it contained by the country’s government. It faced a similar order by the
Supreme Court of India when it first attempted entry into Indian waters but was
allowed to be ported on humanitarian ground with the onset of monsoon. After
about 25 days of it being anchored, it was beached at Alang violating the order
of the Supreme Court. During this period it was sold to a ship breaking
industry based in Alang to avoid the obligation of decontamination of the ships
before being sent for scrapping and against the orders of Supreme Court.   

 

Had the owners of the ship decontaminated the vessel prior to
dismantling in Germany itself as under the Basel Convention, it would have cost
them an enormous some of about 30 million Euros. In an attempt to override this
cost, the ship was sold to Bridgend Shipping for an obscene amount of $ 10 with
of course, the real price being paid off the record. It is estimated that
the controversial ship contained about 1,700 tonnes of asbestos, which
comprises of radioactive material-Americium 241. If inhaled or ingested the
same can remain in human body for decades and pose a potential threat of cancer
to the workers working around the ship.

 

Alang, now an
official storage facility for radioactive elements, toxic wastes, poisonous
gases, and unsualble oil screams toheard among the shouts of development. For a country
looking for its rightful place in the 21st century, Alang’s notoriety is
certainly at odds. It is a grim reminder of the country’s difficult past and
present realities amidst the score for development.

 

The
Ship-Breaking activity flourishes in India due to weak environmental laws.
Viewing this as an opportunity of progress and economic gains would be short sighted.
India, apart from aiming for meeting the global standards needs top recall at
its environmental norms and its value of human life. To frame economic policies
by not considering the welfare interests and focusing only of trade gains will
do more harm than good.