"Toxic" Clemenceau a wakeup call for India to check plight of ship breakers: environmentalist
8 January 2006 (Mumbgai) – A leading environmentalist on Sunday said that the Centre must reign in profit-seeking business lobbies who turn a blind eye to ecological and health concerns in its ship breaking yards even as controversy over allowing the French aircraft carrier Clemenceau, into India for dismantling continued.
Debi Goenka, executive trustee of Conservation Action Trust, a Mumbai-based environment watchdog, said the controversy over allowing Clemenceau into Alang was a wake up call for the government, which has been turning a blind eye to the plight of thousands of these impoverished workers.
Environmental groups led by Greenpeace have urged Paris and New Delhi not to allow the decommissioned warship to reach the Alang ship breaking yard in Gujarat next month without first being 98 percent decontaminated in France.
Greenpeace has said that the 27,000-tonne ship is fitted with hundreds of tonnes of hazardous materials, including 500 tonnes of asbestos, which could pose a severe risk to scrap yard workers, most of who are working with least regard to health safety.
"Our labour laws and our environmental laws, the implementation is extremely weak and if you see the kind of primitive conditions in which ship breaking is carried out in India, it is not at all surprising that all these countries find it lucrative to dump their old ships over here. We seem to be able to buy junk from all over the world and bring it to India for dumping here," said Goenka.
Greenpeace said in a report published in December that thousands of workers involved in the ship-breaking industry in countries like India, Pakistan and China had probably died over the past two decades due to accidents or exposure to toxic waste.
French authorities have on the other hand said that the most dangerous work of removing 115 tonnes of brittle asbestos had been done in France and the leftover amount was there as the ship had to be kept seaworthy on its last journey to India.
The French envoy to India said this week there were only 45 tonnes of non-brittle asbestos on board and it would be removed in India in the safest manner with French engineers overseeing the process.
But Goenka, who detailed the real time effects of asbestos, was in no mood to buy any of the reasoning.
"Once the Asbestos fibres are inhaled there is no way you can get it out of the system and each fibre once it is lodged within the lungs and your breathing system will create a tissue growth around almost like a cancer, which will physically impair the whole process of breathing. That means with every tiny fibre of asbestos a person inhales, you are actually destroying the capacity to breath," he said.
Earlier, on Saturday, a panel appointed by the Supreme Court had recommended that the French aircraft carrier should not be allowed to enter the country, but it also agreed for a final hearing from the French authorities.
"The committee will meet again after two weeks to take final view on this and make suitable recommendations," said DB Boralkar, a senior member of the Supreme Court Monitoring Committee on Hazardous Wastes.
The Clemenceau set sail from France in December for the Alang ship-breaking yard in Gujarat. The French Defence Ministry said the Clemenceau was still in the Mediterranean and would take two months to reach India.
The Indian committee would review the matter in New Delhi on Jan. 20 and see if there was more information on the amount and type of toxic matter in the Clemenceau by then.
Greenpeace has however, said it would not lower its vigil against the ship, despite the panel's ruling. (ANI)
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