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Junk the hazards

The question of whether to allow decommissioned French aircraft carrier Clemenceau to dock in Alang, Gujarat, or not, will be seen as a test of India?s commitment to following environmental safety standards.

india Updated: Jan 10, 2006 03:09 IST
PTI

The question of whether to allow decommissioned French aircraft carrier Clemenceau to dock in Alang, Gujarat, or not, will be seen as a test of India’s commitment to following environmental safety standards. But an equally turbulent question is: why has the country allowed its large ship-breaking industry to flout regulations and safety standards for so long. With over 600 aged ships being sent to our yards every year, the controversy fuming over the amount of hazardous asbestos present in the Clemenceau forms only the tip of the iceberg. That there are at least 500 asbestosis patients whose names figure in a PIL pending in the Supreme Court, demanding a ban on the use, import and manufacture of asbestos, points to a more immediate problem that needs to be addressed.

For India to ban the import and manufacture of asbestos — as is the case in Europe, Japan and Australia — is wishful thinking. There is too much riding on this Rs 2,000 crore industry at present for the government, the ship-breakers as well as the migrant manual workers, from Orissa, Jharkhand and Bihar, who form the core of the industry. What makes this a viable and profitable business in India — as opposed to the West — is the ready source of cheap labour. But it’s also worth acknowledging that these profits are accumulated largely at the expense of the lives and health of these very workers. In the absence of pressure to follow norms of industrial safety, the nearly 35,000 workers directly or indirectly associated with this work are exposed to life-taking carcinogenic material, and sometimes even succumb to accidents and burn injuries within the yards.

For a start, the overall health and safety of the workers must be addressed, by making use of safety equipment like helmets, shoes, glasses and gloves, and the training of personnel mandatory in these yards. In the long-term, we cannot avoid overlooking the disastrous consequences of such work on the environment, and the lives of those working in and around the ship-breaking yards.

First Published: Jan 10, 2006 03:09 IST