Tradewinds – Death yard recyclers likely to ‘avoid’ prosecution

(Written by Geoff Garfield)

24 October 2012 - Legal sources in India say that, because of the huge backlog of cases in the courts, it could be 10 or 20 years before the case is heard. The owners of an Indian recycling yard where six workers died following a tanker fire and explosion are unlikely to ever face trial, say legal sources.

Kiran Shipbreaking Co owners Ram Krishna Jain and Vipin Jain, along with a yard manager, were arrested and charged with culpable homicide following the deaths during the demolition of the 18,700-dwt Union Brave (built 1983).

They have since been released on bail and a shipbreakers’ strike at Alang, in protest at the charges, called off. For five days, ship recycling, as well as operations at nearby rolling mills and furnaces, were virtually halted.

Although many people have died in accidents at Alang over the years, it was the first time that breakers have been accused of culpable homicide.

Now, however, legal sources tell TradeWinds that, because of the huge backlog of cases in Indian courts, it could be 10 or 20 years before the case is heard.

SRIA behind strike bid

By then, commented one lawyer, witnesses could be dead, the accused may have left the country and the yard may no longer exist.

He says that what is known in the Indian subcontinent as a First Information Report (FIR) should have been prepared by the police, setting the criminal-justice procedure in motion.

The Ship Recycling Industries Association (SRIA) was behind the strike in an attempt to have the culpable homicide charges downgraded to a lesser offence.

But sources say police are not empowered to do this or quash the FIR outlining details of the Union Brave deaths, highlighting any alleged yard deficiencies and evidence of negligence. The yard owners would have to apply to the court for any amendment to the charges.

Despite this, reports in India quoting Nikhil Gupta of the SRIA claim that the strike was abandoned only after members of parliament and other regional business organisations pledged to ensure that the breakers association’s demands would be met.

Death tolls on rise

The Indian Express newspaper says breakers have accused the police of targeting them in retaliation over complaints that night-time thefts at the yards were not being taken seriously. The police describe the strike as an attempt to divert attention from the tanker fatalities.

Meanwhile, the death toll at recycling yards in the subcontinent has risen further after three shipbreakers were killed by a falling tank at Gadani in Pakistan.

The National Trade Union Federation blamed a lack of safety measures at the yard.