Library / 6 June 2006
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Blue Lady seduces SC on Environment Day
by Gopal Krishna,
6 June 2006 (New Delhi)In an ironical commemoration of the World Environment Day the Supreme Court on 5 June went against its 14 Oct. 2003 order by letting the Norwegian ship enter India on non-legal grounds.

The toxic ship SS Norway – whose name was recently changed to Blue Lady – left the port of Malaysia for Dubai for repairs, but later it started sailing towards the Indian port at Alang, Gujarat. This fact was brought to the notice of the Supreme Court of India during the hearing of a hazardous waste case Research Foundation for Science Technology and Natural resources Policy Petitioner Vs Union of India and Another Respondents.

An application was filed in the apex court on 12 May 2006 to ensure that the ship complied with the international law, the national law and the court order of 14 October 2003 before arrival of the ship at the Indian port. The Supreme Court had prohibited the import of hazardous wastes in an order on 14 October 2003.

Admittedly, this ship contains 1,240 metric ton of toxic asbestos. The import of asbestos waste is banned under the Hazardous Waste Rules, 2003, under the Indian Environment Protection Act. Around 40 countries have already banned asbestos because of its cancer causing characteristics. The applicant asked the court to direct that the SS Norway should not be allowed to come into Indian waters, as its entry will violate the directions given by the Supreme Court on October 2003.

In an ironical commemoration of the World Environment Day the Supreme Court on 5 June 2006 went against its own 2003 ruling, prohibiting import of hazardous wastes by permitting the Blue Lady to enter India on non-legal grounds. The legal arguments will be heard in July 2006 for any decision with regard to the legality or illegality of anchoring and dismantling.

The ship under tow left Malaysia on 5 May 2005, after having fraudulently declared to port authorities there that it was destined for repairs in Dubai. The ship has made several attempts to reach scrap yards, including an aborted attempt late last year when the Bangladesh government prohibited the toxic ship from entering the country on health and environmental grounds.

The ship does not have the mandatory Form 7 documents from country of export required for hazardous waste shipments. Neither does it have a complete inventory of toxic wastes, although the ship-breaker admits that the ship contains asbestos and polychlorinated biphenyls, a neurotoxin.

The ship has been allowed to anchor by the Supreme Court in the India territorial waters on humanitarian grounds not on legal grounds – because there is no legal ground on which it could have been allowed – on the basis of an interim report submitted by a technical experts committee on ship-breaking chaired by Prodipto Ghosh, a secretary with the Ministry of Environment and Forests.

Besides the committee, the experts from Gujarat Pollution Control Board, Gujarat Maritime Board and Central Pollution Control will also undertake an inspection. Earlier, these very people had inspected the Riky, a Danish ship, that was allowed to be anchored and dismantled illegally and that matter is still before the court.

India being a signatory to the Basel Convention, an international treaty that was designed to reduce the movements of hazardous waste between nations, has repeatedly failed to fulfill its Basel obligations. In fact, it has refused to acknowledge a ship laden with toxic substances in its structure and destined for dismantling to be a hazardous waste, as enshrined in the Decision VII/26 in Conference of Parties-7 of Basel Convention in October 2004.

The Basel Convention found its origin in the international outrage due to illegal transnational shipping of hazardous waste. In the later half of 1980s, the highly industrialised countries faced stringent environmental regulations, leading to a rise in the costs of hazardous waste disposal. Exploring a cheaper alternative, the hazardous wastes began finding an easy inlet into the developing countries. The convention basically aims at controlling the trans-boundary movement of hazardous wastes apart from promoting environmentally sound management of hazardous wastes.

‘Reduction at source’ is another prime focus of the convention. The convention also aims to ensure that the generated hazardous wastes are treated and disposed of as close to the source of generation as possible. In the case of the Blue Lady, the illegality involved in even its anchoring is quite manifest.

Indian media failed to take note of the fact that the court allowed anchoring of the ship on humanitarian grounds and not on legal grounds. The fact is that there is no legal ground for it to be allowed because it is a case of illegal traffic of a toxic ship.

Like public, media also seems to have short memory. It forgot to draw any parallel with the way the Riky was allowed and scrapped illegally, and the court is yet to decide on the issue.

In 2005 Indian government with support from the Supreme Court Monitoring Committee, in flagrant violation of both Basel Convention and the Supreme Court’s October 2003 order, allowed beaching and dismantling of the Riky despite repeated diplomatic recall requests from Denmark. In 2005-06 the French aircraft carrier Le Clemenceau was being allowed to enter Indian waters laden with toxic substances, till the French government recalled the ship from the high seas under intense public pressure and legal actions in the French courts.

[Gopal Krishna is an environmental and occupational health policy analyst.]

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