Waste follows the path of least resistance
by Gopal Krishna, The Hindu (India)
4 November 2007 –
The Environment Ministry, at least since 1995, has been guilty of numerous acts of omission and commission
After hazardous wastes, now it's municipal and hospital wastes. It is not that we did not know about it but the condemnation from the Union Health Minister is noteworthy since it shows how waste is flowing from the North to the South as a global trend.
This underlines the importance of Prior Informed Consent. Although the custom officials of the Kochi port deserve appreciation unlike the officials at Alang port in Gujarat who have continued to let hazardous waste enter Indian waters with impunity. In Kochi, three containers sent from New York based Belsun Corporation in the name of recycling had medical wastes, municipal, surgical, bio-medical and even e-waste.
As in Kochi, at Alang too the ship named Blue Lady (SS Norway) that was allowed anchorage on humanitarian grounds admittedly has a huge amount of hazardous wastes such as asbestos, radioactive material, incineration ash, ballast water, PCBs, heavy metals.
But due to the lame and hollow excuse of the supposed irreversibility of the ship offered by Gopal Subramaniam, Additional Solicitor General, it remains there, although Prof. M.G.K. Menon, Chairman, High Power Committee on Hazardous Wastes, had recommended that it be sent back. In this case the company in question is Star Cruise Ltd that has so far successfully attempted to escape its decontamination cost in the aftermath of boiler explosion of 2003 in Miami.
In March 2007, Bhagvatsinh Haubha Gohil, sarpanch of Sosiya, Tehsil Talaja, Gujarat, filed an application on behalf of 12 sarpanchs and 30,000 people who live within the distance of 1 to 25 km from the ship breaking yard at Alang before the Justice Balakrishnan bench, which listed the matter for hearing before the Justice Arijit Pasayat and Justice S.H. Kapadia bench in the Blue Lady case.
These people largely depend on seafood that is under threat from ship-breaking. The ship in question contains a large amount of asbestos that poses a huge risk to the villagers. Their application is yet to be heard although the final orders were passed on September 11. The 45-year old, 315-metre long and 16-storey asbestos laden toxic ship still has radioactive material at more than 1,000 places.
The hazardous waste generating ship-breaking industry is already known to have a higher accident rate (2 workers per 1,000) than the mining industry (0.34 per 1,000). This is considered the worst in the world, and 16 per cent of the workers here are suffering from asbestos related diseases. In its order on September 11, the Supreme Court advanced "the concept of 'balance' under the principle of proportionality applicable in the case of sustainable development…" and ruled:
"It cannot be disputed that no development is possible without some adverse effect on the ecology and environment, and the projects of public utility cannot be abandoned and it is necessary to adjust the interest of the people as well as the necessity to maintain the environment. A balance has to be struck between the two interests. Where the commercial venture or enterprise would bring in results which are far more useful for the people, difficulty of a small number of people has to be bypassed. The comparative hardships have to be balanced and the convenience and benefit to a larger section of the people has to get primacy over comparatively lesser hardship."
This is the logic advanced by the Union Environment Ministry that makes India a dumping ground of developed countries. At least since 1995, this Ministry has been guilty of numerous acts of omission and commission that endanger environmental health. It is the respondent in the hazardous wastes case and has been fined by the apex court for dereliction of duty.
By not hearing the matter of gross illegality committed by Riky, the Danish ship and by condoning the entry of Blue Lady in Indian territorial waters in violation of court's own orders of October 14, 2003 and September 6, 2007, all relevant international laws such as the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal have been violated besides international labour conventions and treaties — that govern the breaking of contaminated ships — to all of which India is a signatory.
The condemnation by the Health Ministry makes a case for the merger of the Environment Ministry with it because it is more concerned about the environmental health of the citizens.
FAIR USE NOTICE. This document contains copyrighted material whose use has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. The Basel Action Network is making this article available in our efforts to advance understanding of ecological sustainability and environmental justice issues. We believe that this constitutes a 'fair use' of the copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. If you wish to use this copyrighted material for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.