(Written by Shirish Nadkarni)
11 August 2014 – In what is a major setback for the shipbreaking industry in India, a study carried out by the Mumbai-based Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) on Alang yards showed that working conditions had hardly improved over the years since its inception 31 years ago.
The study, commissioned by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), is based on intensive fieldwork at the world’s largest shipbreaking yard Alang and Sosiya over 13 months from 21 April last year to 30 May 2014. The report has been submitted in June, and is expected to be published in a few days.
The findings of the study are bound to come as a shot in the arm for environmentalists Greenpeace, who have been crying themselves hoarse over the years about what they call inhuman working conditions at Alang and scant respect for the health of the workers.
The green campaigners have consistently objected to the lack of adequate safety equipment, as also to the heavy presence of harmful substances like asbestos and PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) in demolition vessels that endanger the lives and heath of the workers, and render them susceptible to cancer and respiratory ailments.
A senior member of the TISS team, which carried out the studies at Alang said that there had been 470 deaths at the shipbreaking yards in Alang in the period 1983 to 2013.
“This is the official figure, accepted by the shipbreakers’ association, but the actual figure could be much higher,” he said. “The training provided to new workers is inadequate; it is just for two to three days.
“The labourers are mostly migrant workers from the poor regions of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand and Odisha. They are ignorant about the rules and regulations; they have no idea of the labour laws. Nor are they aware of the compensation due to them.”
The TISS team member alleged that proper medical help was never available, and that doctors who visited the clinics were not regular.
“They do not have an orthopaedic or skin specialist,” he said. “The only medical facility available is a nine-bed hospital run by the Red Cross Society and a small clinic run by a private doctor. For emergencies, the injured have to be taken to Bhavnagar, which is almost 50 km away.”
Although the Ship Recycling Association of India (SRIA) and Gujarat Maritime Board (GMB) which overlooks and monitors the shipbreaking activity at the yards, claim that health camps were being held for the workers, the TISS member said that it was merely a symbolic activity.