Toxic Trade News / 13 February 2006
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Indian court orders new panel for "toxic" ship
by Reuters (UK)
13 February 2006 (New Dehli) – India's Supreme Court on Monday ordered a new panel be set up to investigate whether a "toxic" French warship should be let into India to be broken for scrap, after a committee failed to make a firm recommendation.

The top court also imposed a ban on demonstrations and the publishing of opinions on whether the decommissioned aircraft carrier, Clemenceau, should be dismantled in India.

"We are shocked to find demonstrations are held and articles written, and if any one is found to be doing so, he should prima facie be held for contempt of court and suitable action be taken against him," judge Arijit Pasayat told the court.

The ban would affect environmental groups, such as Greenpeace, which have protested the entry of the 27,000-tonne Clemenceau to the Alang scrapping yard in western Gujarat state, saying it contains hundreds of tonnes of toxic material that could damage the health of workers.

French officials say they have removed most of the ship's dangerous asbestos, leaving only 45 tonnes needed to make the ship seaworthy. Environmentalists say ten times as much asbestos remains on board.

Fuelling the battle over the figures, the French Defense Ministry said at the weekend that it only had documents for 85 tonnes of the 115 tonnes of asbestos removed from the warship.

French Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said on Monday she would seek to shed light on the affair.

"You can be sure that once the Indian Supreme Court has made its decision, I will not fail to establish the full truth," Alliot-Marie told France Info radio.

The Indian judges criticized the court's Monitoring Committee on Hazardous Wastes for "total non-application of mind" after it submitted two reports last week.

The judges said the new panel should be made up of four or five members and asked the government to propose names by Friday.

The court repeated an earlier order that the warship -- which served in the 1991 Gulf War -- not be allowed to enter Indian waters until it gave a final verdict.

The outcry by environmentalists and the legal battle have embarrassed the French government, whose ambassador to India has said Paris was ready to take back any toxic waste removed from the Clemenceau.

The row could have political fallout in France too. A recent poll showed 68 percent of voters believed the Clemenceau should return to France, something influential Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy said might yet happen.

"I really think the question (of the ship returning to France) will end up being asked. Like everybody else, I have trouble understanding it all," Sarkozy said on RMC radio.

(Additional reporting by Jon Boyle in Paris)

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