17 February 2010 – A UN official, after examining the waste disposal system in ship-breaking yards in India, has criticised the health and safety standards employed for workers. It has recommended a national plan for safe management of toxic products and upgradation of medical and sanitation facilities.
Indian ship-breaking yards have poor safety standards for workers and the country has not made enough progress in managing its toxic waste safely, said a UN special rapporteur. The United Nations special rapporteur examining India’s disposal of hazardous wastes said the health and safety situation in many shipbreaking yards in India still remains “critical” and there is a need to improve training facilities and working conditions for labourers.
The UN special rapporteur, Professor Okechukwu Ibeanu, speaking to the media at the end of his 10-day visit to the country, also noted that only 3% of the 400,000 metric tonnes of e-waste generated in India is recycled in authorised facilities. He recommended a national plan for safe management of electronic products.
Prof Ibeanu visited ship-breaking yards in Alang in Gujarat and in Mumbai and an e-waste recycling facility in Roorkee. He acknowledged that India had made significant progress, including in developing an “impressive” regulatory framework for environmentally sound management of toxic products.
Prof Ibeanu was also critical of the safety standards forworkers. The authorities in Gujarat had made efforts to reduce risks to workers, but, he said “the health and safety situations prevailing in most of the shipbreaking yards I visited remain critical as witnessed by 12 fatal accidents that occurred in Alang during the course of last year.”
The five-day training provided to workers in Alang is “grossly inadequate” and the facilities should be improved, Prof Ibeanu said. He noted that in Mumbai, workers do not receive any form of training, “making them more prone to serious accidents and injuries”.
Other shortcomings include medical facilities. Those established on or just outside the yards in Alang and Mumbai do not possess sufficient human, technical and financial resources to provide any treatment other than first-aid for minor injuries.
“The Red Cross facility I visited in Alang is not equipped to deal with serious accidents, and can only count on four medical doctors to provide healthcare not only to some 30,000 workers in the yards, but also the neighbouring villages of Alang and Sosia,” he said.
He said he was ‘shocked’ to see the conditions in which most workers live in Alang and Mumbai. “Semi-skilled and unskilled workers live in makeshift facilities lacking basic sanitation facilities, electricity and even safe drinking water.”
Prof Ibeanu, who will submit a report to the UN Human Rights Council, said the dismantling of electronic equipment by small-scale informal laboratories can pose health risks and favoured a national implementation plan for proper management of electronic products, withspecial focus on integrating informal recyclers into the formal economy.