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New toxin: Alang in midst of HIV scare

NGOs may be protesting the entry of Blue Lady, but Alang is not in the pink of health, writes Chetan Chauhan.

india Updated: Jul 07, 2006 05:40 IST

Not just toxic tubs, Alang has several other reasons to panic.

Environmentalists may be protesting the entry of French ocean liner — Blue Lady — into the world’s largest ship-breaking yard in Gujarat, but Alang is not in the pink of health. 

More than the threat of toxic cargo carried by the ship, sexually-transmitted diseases like HIV/AIDS are endangering lives of Alang workers, a  recent survey by the International Metalworkers Federation (IMF) warned.

The statistics are alarming: 50 to 55 cases of sexually-transmitted diseases or HIV/AIDS cases come are detected by doctors at the local Bhavnagar Blood Bank office every week. “We estimate that the actual figure is much higher as the Bhavnagar Blood Bank is too small to cover 55,000 migrant workers. The other clinics do not have HIV/AIDS testing facilities,” said Ramapati Kumar, a Greenpeace campaigner.

Majority of the migrant workers are married, but lack of permanent employment in Alang compels over 88 per cent of the total workforce to leave their families behind and stay in shared accommodation. And, over 50 per cent of them are below 30 years. Flesh trade is rampant. “The villages turn into prostitution dens especially on days when the crew gets paid. They splurge on “entertainment” —  mostly sex and alcohol,” Kumar added.

The “pay and play” syndrome is not restricted to Alang alone. Even the hometowns of the workers feel the pinch. Every year, HIV/AIDS cases are reported from Bahrampur district of Orissa and Khurja in Uttar Pradesh — home to majority of the Alang workers.

Coupled with it is the the threat of pollution-related diseases caused by exposure to “toxins” dumped by ship and poisonous cargo ferried by “dead” foreign liners like Clemenceau and Blue Lady.  “Proper medical treatment are not available in the area — which has only one hospital with the bare minimum facilities,” the IMF survey report said.

The international body has recommended a legal framework to provide health and employment security cover to the Alang workers to tackle the situation. The environment and forest ministry admits that Alang workers do not have access to basic amenities. A committee headed by environment secretary Prodipto Ghosh is likely to submit a report to the Supreme Court on how to improve the workers’ lot. The apex court is hearing a related case.