13 July 2003 - At least 25 casual workers have died and 50 others have been injured in explosions at the Alang ship-breaking yard in Gujarat in the last six months, Greenpeace has alleged.
But powerful lobbies in Alang with mafia links have suppressed information about the deaths, activists of the international environmental group told mediapersons on Saturday.As a result, only two accidents had been reported, they said.
“India has signed the Basel convention which lays down that old ships sent for scrapping have to be gas-free before they are cut up,” said Greenpeace spokesperson Ganesh Nochur. “So, these deaths have taken place because international law has been flouted.”
Greenpeace had earlier criticised the dangerous working conditions at Alang. It charged that workers there were paid low wages and not given any protective gear, as a result of which many had skin and lung ailments.
There are about 40,000 casual workers at Alang, 90 per cent of whom are illiterate migrants from Bihar, Andhra Pradesh or Uttar Pradesh. “They say it is better to die in an accident while working than starve and die,” said P.K. Ganguly, secretary of the Centre for Indian Trade Unions.
The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development has 24 member countries that send old ships for breaking to Third World countries, where there is cheap labour, but also a lack of regulatory and safety mechanisms.
Mr Nochur said Greenpeace activists had toured major ship-owning countries and found that they were not serious about aiming to improve conditions at Alang. “Ship owners sell old ships to agents in Malta, London or elsewhere and do not accept the blame for lack of safety during ship- breaking,” he said.
“Greece owns 20 per cent of the world’s fleet.While Greek ship owners expressed concern at the spiralling deaths taking place in Alang, they told us they could not do anything because that was India’s responsibility.”
Mr Ganguly said that OECD countries generate 400 million tonnes of hazardous wastes per year and this amount was rising. “Most of this amount finds its way to India for scrapping,” he said.
He added that ship-breaking generated only 2.5 million tonnes of steel a year for India, which constituted ten per cent of the country’s steel production.
“This amount could easily be produced by India’s steel plants. Where is the need to exploit poor workers by poisoning them with toxic substances?” he asked. “If a worker is maimed by jagged steel pieces lying around, he is paid a paltry amount and told not to come to the yard the next day.”