Cost of living

  • 27/02/2006

Cost of living The shipbreakers of Alang are an exasperated lot. "As it is we are crippled by excise duty and competition. Then these Greenpeace activists make business tough for us. Shipbreaking falls under 32 government departments. How are we supposed to operate,' says R K Jain, operator of a ship breaking plot and an ancillary steel rolling mill in Alang.

Alang has hit the headlines earlier. In October, 2003, the Supreme Court gave wide-ranging directions for the management of hazardous waste from ships in Alang. It said:

l "Before the ship arrives at port, it should have proper consent from the concerned authority or the state maritime board stating that it does not contain any hazardous waste or radioactive substances'

l "The ship should be properly decontaminated by the ship owner prior to breaking'

l "The complete inventory of hazardous waste should be made mandatory for the ship owner.'

The court also directed continuous monitoring of air and noise pollution as well as the installation of hazardous waste disposal facilities in Alang. The court, therefore, did not ban shipbreaking. It banned the onboard cargo of hazardous waste in the ships, which it directed had to be decontaminated before entry. It also set up guidelines for "environmentally sound shipbreaking' in the yard.

In light of the court's orders, should Le Clemenceau , be decontaminated before breaking or refused entry? Which definition of hazardous waste will India opt for? The Basel classification, which lists both the items and the characteristics of the waste in separate annexes? Or the imo definition, according to which a list of all hazardous substances on the ship should be handed over to the breakers? Most importantly, have the Supreme Court directions helped make Alang green?

Green break?

Down To Earth very little has changed in Alang over the years. In fact, with rising costs and lower profits, worker safety is the first casualty at the plots. Leave alone sophisticated equipment like body suits and respirators, the workers on the yard hardly have basic equipment like gloves, boots, goggles and helmets, supposed to be provided by the plot owners. "We are usually provided with helmets and gloves. Those who can afford it buy their own cheap goggles for Rs 30-35 and boots for Rs 200-250,' says Vijay Prasad, a worker from Jharkhand.

Gujarat Maritime Board Act mandates that the workers are issued "helmet, safety shoes, welding goggles, safety belt with safety line, hand-gloves and self-contained breathing apparatus with relevant Indian Standard Specification'. In India, the average cost of an standard neoprene bodysuit is Rs 1,500. Respirators: Rs 2,500-4,500, depending on the filters.

"Asbestos is completely harmless, no supervision is required,' say ship broker Sanjay Shah and shipbreaker R K Jain. "We have been doing this for so many years. The worker just needs to break the asbestos with a rod and put it away. What's the big deal? There is absolutely no increase in safety equipment cost in dealing with asbestos.' But the usual explanation that the high cost of safety gear makes the industry unviable does not hold much water. "In the past two years, China has been setting up cleaner facilities with better safety provisions, which is why many companies send ships there,' says Jain. P&O Lines, one of world's biggest shipping lines, has decided to sell all its ships to China.

Infrastructure?

The court had ordered better infrastructure for cleaner dismantling. According to reports, the Gujarat Maritime Board has invested Rs 4.5 crore in building environmental infrastructure. It is not clear where this investment has gone, other than a secured landfill for hazardous waste that was commissioned five months ago. The facility has three separate landfills: one for asbestos and glass wool, another for industrial and solid waste, and yet another for municipal solid waste.

Currently, all plot owners supposedly transport their waste to the Odhav landfill site, near Ahmedabad. But nobody can explain the economics of the new landfill. Membership fee for a site at Alang is a non-refundable Rs 30,000 for three years, and a recurring cost of Rs 1,000-7,000 per tonne of waste, depending of its quality. "Whereas even if you include the transportation cost, disposal at Odhav is cheaper than at Alang,' says Nitin Kanakiya, joint secretary of the Ship Recycling Industries Association at Bhavnagar. Clearly, the private developer of the landfill is busy looking for secured profits, which is mandated by the orders of the court. This will make for poor waste business.

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