[Marxism] ON THE FACE OF DEATH--ORKERS PLIGHT IN ALANG SHIP YARD BREAKING
dn.rath at gmail.com
Wed Sep 2 08:40:24 MDT 2009
Alang again in news
ON THE FACE OF DEATH
WORKERS PLIGHT IN ALANG SHIP YARD BREAKING
"If I go to Alang maybe one person will die, but if I stay five people will
die. says the worker".
BY- DWARIKA NATH RATH
Alang is again in news for a short time . The death of six workers in
Alang Ship yard has again brought the plight of workers in ship breaking
yard into focus temporarily after the Clemenceau and Blue Lady episodes.
The group of six labourers had climbed on the ship on 4th.August morning to
bring down cables of the ship. When they reached engine room of MSC Jessica,
and started cutting operation, fire broke out in engine room. The six
workers were charred to death. This is not the first time that workers were
charred to death or crushed by the crane. One worker died in month of May
and another in June.
Death of workers have become routine affair and least cared. In last few
months there were death in Adani power station, Tata's Nano factory
construction in Sanand and now in again in Alang. concern over the death of
one worker and six injured workers, working in the NANO car project in
Sanand,. of TATA. This is the second incident of death of workers after the
incident in Shiracha Power Plant of ADANI. , near Mundra .
The Alang-Sosiya Ship-Breaking Yard (ASSBY) located in the Gulf of Cambay in
the Bhavnagar District of Gujarat State in India is the biggest
ship-breaking yard in Asia employing more than thousand workers dwindling
from 10.000 to 40.000.There are around ten villages in the vicinity of
ASSBY. They are Alang, Sosiya, Manar, Sathara, Kathwa, Bharapara, Mathavada,
Takhatgadh (chopda), Jasapara and Mandva in 12 KM vicinity of sea coast.
Conflict and amity is an usual phenomenon of the migrants with the locale.
But segregation compel most of the migrants to stay in mushrooming slums
which is humanly inhabitable in normal condition and full with the dust of
asbestos.. Few stay in rented houses in different villages.The locals are
content with small and medium business due to ASSBY. 99% migrants are
engaged in ship breaking in comparison to only less than.1% local people.
The migrants mostly from Orissa, UP. Bihar, Jharkhand etc. are very
laborious.So the ship breakers prefer migrants in ship breaking more than
the local people which is a very normal practice in Gujarat including in
power loom sector at Surat, Salt factory at Kandla etc.There are 178 plots
ASSBY that dismantle more than 2.5 million tons of material round the year
and where 30 ships can be brokered in a month with an annual turnover of
3,500 crore. There are 2 departments to look after all these - one is
Gujarat Maritime Board (GMB) and another is Controller of Explosion (CoE).
For breaking ship no- objection certificate is issued by GMB and cleaning
certificate is issued by CoE.
Alang is the classical case of violation of least regard for environment
which is sacrificed for the fake economics growth.. Alang appears to be a
place of Garbage Sale. Alang is not SEZ but SEZ like situation prevails. The
press people cannot have free access. It is a place that symbolises the
greed and exploitation, business by deceit violating all human norms and
The deaths and injuries are very common in Alang In May and June the
death of workers was caused due to the crane's rope carrying big steel
plates cut from discarded ships broke and fell on them. Only Rs 30,000 was
given to their families as expenses for performing his last rites
reacting to the meagre compensation, one of the worker said , "In cases
of injuries, no case is ever registered. The ship-breaking companies at best
give some token compensation for medical expenses." This is the reason why
these companies never employ any worker permanently." Said the one of the
workers. Where as Mr. V H Patel, Deputy Director of the Inspectorate of
Factories at Alang, claims that proper compensation to victims' families has
been paid. There is no medical insurance for the workers.
This year in June. perhaps for the first time about 15.000 workers were in
strike demanding workers colony, wage hike, hospitals, schools. As per the
version of the Union leader of Alang Sosiya Ship Recycling and General
Workers Association (ASSRGWA) since 1982, no basic amenities are provided
to the workers though the Ship breaking is recognized as an industry. But
Mr. Nikhil Gupta, joint secretary of Ship Recycling Association of India
says that the workers are paid much more than the base daily wages amount
ranging from Rs 128 to 136 for different categories.
He alleged that the 'few elements from outside Alang trying to provoke
workers for their vested interest." Similarly Green peace has been accused
of defaming Alang, as a part of conspiracy.
THE Alang Ship Breaking Yard has came into existence in the year 1982
There are 183 plots spread over around 10 kin long stretch along the sea
coast of Alang & Sosia, -The first ship its first vessel - MV Kota Tenjong
beached at Alang Ship Breaking Yard on 13th February, 1983. Alang beached
4,539 ships between 1983 and 2008 and handled tonnage to the tune of
3,19,89400 LDT (light displacement tonnage). During its prime in 1998-99,
Alang handled a record 361 ships with 30,37,882 LDT. About 40. 000 workers
were working in the peak period.
10.000 tons are scraped daily in Alang. The scraping meets 10 to 15 % of
country's need.With 2.5m tones of steel a year feed 120 rolling mills in
the country. earns 600 crs. to Govt. coffer.Tadaja out post earn Rs.70.000/
every day. GMB earned 100 cr. as premium from plot leases and 35 cr. as rent
annually. 95 % are high quality steel. the purpose of dismantling is to
recover steel and rest 5% are none steel matters which has to be separated
from steel. This separation is the most risky one. These 5% are also
consumer items old in local market in cheaper price. There is a heavy demand
for all those items.
Though there is global melt down but the it is a boon to ship breaking.
Right now near about 200 ship are in wait for dismantling.. "Alang is all
set to set a new record in scrapping largest number of ships in 2009 as more
than 600 ships are available for dismantling in the international market due
to slowdown in the global trades," said Vishnu Gupta, President of Alang
Ship Breakers' Association. The greed of Ship breaking and recycling is so
much that Alang is not free from explosives.
Right now a ship named" Britain Star" carrying huge explosives has
arrived in polt no-60 arrived on 11th August, which has taken away the
sleep of the administration and the people of near by areas are scared.
Unhealthy condition of workers and the contamination
Most of the workers suffer from cholera, typhoid, and urticaria.. 8 person
per 10000 suffer from urticaria where as in Alang it is 97% .
Average 30 mishaps takes place every day. They are fatal. The have to be
rushed to Bhavnagr. There is no well equipped hospital. It is presumed that
Asia's biggest ship-breaking yard, is sitting on AIDS bomb. There are so far
75 confirmed HIV cases reported at Bhavnagar Hospital. There is no dearth
of hooch too, which is operating under the very nose of the Police , though
there is prohibition law in the state.
The Supreme Court Supreme Court-appointed two-member committee in
collaboration with the National Institute of Occupational Health
(NIOH),Ahmedabad last year, to asses the health of the workers.The
committee came out with the report that fatal accident rate in
ship-breaking industry is in the range of 2 per 1000 as opposed to 0.34 per
1000 in the mining industry. But according to the Greenpeace and the
International Federation of Human Rights the fatal accident rate at Alang
is at 50-60 per year. This is considered the worst in the world, and 16 per
cent of workers here are suffering asbestos related diseases. But from 1983
until 2004, the Gujerat Maritime Board (GMB) acknowledged 372 deaths. It is
difficult to asses the exact number of deaths as the dead bodies are
disposed off in secret and no records are maintained or available.
Every sixth worker handling asbestos in the ship-breaking industry has shown
signs of asbestosis from chest X-rays.16% which could further lead to lung
cancer. According to Greenpeace, the soil and water levels around the Alang
yard on the western coast are filled with dangerously high levels of toxic
wastes. Extremely high levels of asbestos, heavy metals like arsenic,
chromium, cadmium and hazardous and carcinogenic chemicals have been found
One kg of soil of Alang contains 77 mg chromium,90 mg iron,108 nichel,112
copper,35 mg arsenic,2mg lead,74 mg zinc. Lead is poisonous for blood,
kidney and nerves. Arsenic poisoning also too hazardous. The remnants of
hazardous elements will be there for 10 to 20 years with out carrying the
activities of ship breaking. But it is termed as the with in permitted
Surprisingly the Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Oscar
Fernandez, recently stated in Lok Sabha, last time that the workers in
Alang are undergoing regular medical check up and no worker is found to be
suffering from asbestosis.
One of the officers on Special Duty, GMB, said: "The penal provisions under
the GMB Ship Recycling Regulations 2003, which include a fine of Rs 1,000
for a minor safety norm violation and operational suspension for a major
one, are also being strictly enforced."
GMB is satisfied that T 20.000 workers are trained and there have been no
fatal accidents over the last two years. Use of Helmets , gloves are
promised by the ship breakers but it is a mockery as the ship breakers
would say the helmet or the gloves do not save lives. those using the helmet
and gloves are ridiculed and the GMB is not at all serious about the matter.
The GMB is more for the ship breakers than the workers.
Of course the Surakhya Divas ( Safety Day) are observed with much fan fare
and at times the Chief Minister Mr. Narendra Modi join the functions of
Surakhya Divas and declare special packages foe ship breaking and
public-private partnership (PPP) model in an apparent bid to infuse life
into the 'dying' ship-breaking industry and to make Alang perform as per
the international standards and to also promote it as a "green recycling
facility" by using higher-end technologies But hardly there is any
reference to the welfare of the workers.
Workers whose responsibility?
GMB officers at Alang say that the labourers are not the GMB's
responsibility as it does not employ them. ``So there is no question of
owning up for their welfare,' But one of the officers says that competition
for jobs is so intense that workers can lose their jobs for being ill. "If
you fall sick and take leave, there will be no job for you when you come
back. under this circumstances of disowning the workers one can understand
the plight of workers in Alang.
"If I go to Alang maybe one person will die, but if I stay five people will
This is the core of the reasons that lakhs migrate from their home state.
this very aspect reflects the economic condition of the people The mad ,
desperate compulsion of the rural populace of rural India to migrate to
the world of uncertainty and probable death again reflect the health of
our country after the 62 years of independence.
The response from the host states are too very shocking. The host states do
least bother for their brethren people flocking to far land for bread. There
are hue and cry when some thing happen in Australia but the Govt. care
least for the migrating people. They never express or discus the plight of
the migrants in the floor of the Assembly. Nor the labour officer rushes to
the guest states to monitor whether Intra State Migration Acts and the
labour laws are properly operative or not. The host states are happy to get
rid of un employed s and over and above richer by Money Order economy. Due
to this in different attitude of the host states the Ship breakers do not
care to pay any attention to the workers. As if they are obliging the
migrants offering a job in the ship breaking Yard.
The railway trains in the country are routed to ferry the migrant
workers to the destination uncertainty. The heart throbbing scenes of
departures in the station of the migrants every day can remind the
migration Burma and Rangoon in British India.
An English film was made named Wages of Fear in 1950s. The film depicts
the unemployed youths ready to take any risk to earn bread. There are wages
of fear every where in the world. of the poor country. the rich country
survive on the wages of fear of the poor , developing and under developed
country.In Alang it is rather "Dare for the Wage".
In the circus, the man enter the well of death in the motorcycle with the
breathless silence of the audience. But in Alang the workers donot have any
breathless audience to sympathise with them. Rather they have mercy less
ship breakers, GMB and the Govt.
Alang come under GMB, Gujarat Govt. But so many ministries have their
stake here too. Ministry Industry, Commerce, Health, Labour, Law etc have
their role in the ship breaking yard. Except the ministry of industry and
commerce , whose main concern is revenue others hardly play their
designated role. Ministry of health appears once in every year, on AIDs
day. Ministry of environment is the slave to the dictum of LPG and some
time barks to show it's existence.Alang is not a SEZ but it is like a SEZ .
The working conditions in a ship breaking yard are such that life is cheaper
than steel. As quoted in the Times of India dated 23.05.03, "Taking
cognizance of frequent deaths at the yard due to lack of safety measures
Gujarat High Court has directed the state government in 1997 with a legal
framework to regulate the ship breaking activities, 'ship recycling yard
regulation' - popularly known as Alang regulation. The new legal framework
was put in place by enshrining it in the state government Gazette in August
2000. However, vested interests view it as an infringement on free activity
that can be carried out in absence of safety measures. Hence, the Alang Act
was never implemented".
The nexus of Government officials, contractors and businessmen operating in
that area ensure that the workers are not registered, do not get identity
card by the employers, no information of working condition, false name are
entered in the log book to evade to legal compensation in any eventuality.
Under these circumstances it is high time for the intervention of higher
authorities in the administration, government, civil liberties organization,
labour organizations to come forward and take up the issue.
Often media highlight the problems of Alang. But the authority has never
paid any serious attention. A survey was conducted in 1999 by Bhavnagar
University. Out of 361 workers 14 face accident, 11 suffer from burn, 14
from injuries. Only 10 wear helmets, 1 have the glove, and 3 uses welding
glasses. 32 receive informal training, where as rest are untrained. So the
crude and obsolete technology is the backbone of the ship breaking
enterprises .GMB is only interested in revenue collection without much
liability for the workers. Profit maximization is the main Mantra of the
Govt. by reducing the cost of ship breaking. Though the Gujarat Govt is
earning Rupees 3200 cores annually from the ship breaking, the Govt. is
least attention environment and workers welfare.
The Green Peace has come out with a powerful document titles,"End of Life
Ships: The Human Cost of Breaking Ships," documents, with interviews and
photographs, the horrific conditions at Alan in 2005.
Virtually Alang is becoming the dumping ground of the developed country.
Alang appears to be a place of Garbage Sale an epitome of globalization of
waste violating all norms and guidelines of thre Basel Convention to which
Govt. of India is a signatory. Basel Convention, regulates the trans-border
movement of hazardous wastes but violated by the rich country and India is
allowing hazardous substance in the name of development.
On 2003,the Supreme Court declared , "before a ship arrives at port, it
should have proper consent from the concerned authority or the state
Maritime Board, stating that it does not contain any hazardous wastes or
radioactive substances",. The government law states that "the
ship-recycler shall not allow waste materials such as oil-cakes, scrap iron
and other metallic and rubber pieces to be thrown into the sea or the
There are 2 departments to look after all these - one is Gujarat Maritime
Board (GMB) and another is Controller of Explosion (CoE). For breaking ship
no- objection certificate is issued by GMB and cleaning certificate is
issued by CoE. We quote from the Times of India report published on 22.05.03
"Serious doubts are being raised over the way no objection certificates are
doled out by regulating agencies like the Gujarat Maritime Board (GMB) and
the Controller of Explosion (CoE).----Though the GMB authorities continue to
blame ship-owners after every mishaps, it is the system failure which is the
root cause.---there is hardly any accountability on the part of various
agencies that issue clearance certificates to ensure safety of workers.
Incase of "Inville", authorities had issued safety clearance certifying the
ship was fit for breaking .The Controller of Explosion had granted the "man
entry", "gas free "and "hot work" approval certificate before dismantling
Despite CoE clearance presence of hydrocarbon and gases in the interior of
Inville"was detected." It is surprising how the certificates were granted
there are ample traces of gases, Sulpher, furnace oil and other materials,
which can wreak havoc if exposed to heat. "Said an official of Forensic
Science Laboratory. While GMB officer in charge ----admits "probably there
are lot of areas which are ignored. "And with Coe having it's office in
Vadodara, functioning often becomes difficult Sources reveal that
certificates are granted on mere verbal assurance and without any physical
inspection. .Ship-owners often do not wait for all clearances certificates,
says sources .With the prices of steel the prime extract from the ship,
varying on day to day basis, ship breakers soften flout norms to sell off
the scrap when prices go up .Some times , even ship breaking guide lines are
ignored and interiors of the ship, which are normally broken down at the end
of the operation, are dismantled earlier as there is good market for these
products. This endangers the lives of 6the labourers as they working
suffocating and unventilated compartments, amidst hazardous gases. The role
of GMB in granting certificates is also being questioned. Even after a ship
breaker obtains certificates from the Coe, it is the duty of the GMB to
verify them before the final go ahead is granted. And the GMB has just a
chief officer and three safety supervisors who are expected to completely
survey the ship. " There could be slip-ups which come to light only after
mishaps" admits Captain Deukar Of the three safety supervisors , only one is
permanent employee, the others being on contract".
This very Report exposes serious loopholes.
Many ships enters illegally with the full knowledge of the GMB and hope to
manage to stay for scraping. Many ships move here and there , some time to
Pipavav port and fiannly shelterd in Alang. The ship breakers are confidence
of manipulating and getting the sanctions.
Clemensue and Blue Lady episode
Alang was in world watch during the Clemensue episode followd by the Blue
The Clemencueau was to be sent back because of the popular protest in
France and global pressure created by green peace. Of course the Supreme
Court of India too ruled out the entry of Clemenceau but at the same time
allowed the Blue Lad to be dismantled..
The French Ambassador did every thing to convince the India Govt. and the
authority that the Clemeceau did not carry any hazardous materials. The
Ministry of Environment was avoiding the responsibility on Clemenceau and
pushed the it to Supreme court. The Govt. of Gujarat and the ship breakers
were worried of the with drawl of Clemenceau from Alang.. There were
demonstrations against the Green peace in Bhavnagar. Even the workers were
waiting breathlessly for the clearance of Clemenceau. For them it was the
question of bread and livelihood .
On January 17, 2006, the Supreme Court of India observed: "We do not want
the environment to be polluted. When the French Government had not permitted
the ship to be broken there, why should we allow the ship to come to India?
Whether breaking the ship will result in pollution or not is immaterial. The
best thing will be to ask the ship to go back from where it started."
But after two months passed a shocking judgment on Blue Lady ," In its
order on 11 September, the Supreme Court said," It cannot be disputed that
no development is possible without some adverse effect on the ecology and
environment, and the projects of public utility cannot be abandoned and it
is necessary to adjust the interest of the people as well as the necessity
to maintain the environment. A balance has to be struck between the two
interests. Where the commercial venture or enterprise would bring in results
which are far more useful for the people, difficulty of a small number of
people has to be bypassed. The comparative hardships have to be balanced and
the convenience and benefit to a larger section of the people has to get
primacy over comparatively lesser hardship."
The Supreme Court also did not consider the application filed by Bhagvat
Sinh Haluba Gohil, Sarpanch, Village Sosiya, Tehsil Talaja, and District
Bhanvnagar on behalf of 30, 000 villagers and 12 panchayats of Bhavnagar
district of Gujarat. The villages pleaded , "Blue Lady" (SS Norway) be not
allowed to be dismantled at the Alang Ship-breaking yard." The villagers
have argued that "The dismantling of the ship would have hazardous effect on
the residents of the villages near the Alang ship breaking yard as the ship
contains large amount of asbestos which, when exposed is hazardous to the
health of the residents living in the twelve villages."
The Supreme Court too disliked the trial by media with the following words.
"We are shocked to find demonstrations are held and articles written, and if
anyone is found to be doing so, he should prima facie be held for contempt
of court and suitable action be taken against him," Judge Arijit Pasayat
told the court.
At time there are world wide attention for Alang on various issues. The
Green peace . the foreign media BBC, Guardian, Newyork Times and important
dailies try to high lights the issues related to environment and the
exploitation of cheap labour. But the regional media is out and out
unsympathetic to the plight of workers and the issues of environments.
Raising the these issues is considered as snatching away the ship breaking
yard from Alang to China, Bangladesh , Pakistan or other places. The
attitude is at any cost the business must go on . This same attitude is
harbouerd by the Govt. of Gujarat too. In spite of global attention on
Alnag there is no respite and there is no intervention from Central Govt.
or any quarter either for the benefit of the workers or to save the
After the Clemenceau thousand of workers went back to their home land to
tell the untold story of exploitation before the media, because the both
National as well as the International medias shadows the workers to high
light about the plight of the workers due to unsafe working condition and
the violation of all norms.(A TV crew from Paris interviewed the present
writer who were later held up by the police in Bhavnagar).
Though Alang was in the world watch of the media the workers lamented of
loosing the bread due to the call back of Clemenceau which was compensated
after allowing the Blue Lady.
The teams after teams has visited Alang and surprisingly all the teams are
satisfied . all the teams are in one opinions that there is threat form
asbestos and it is with the permitted limit. the body appointed by SC .
parliamentary body a team of ILO. World Bank - are with the same opinion of
Metallurgical & Engineering Consultants (India) Limited (MECON) and Gujarat
Ecology commission of Gujarat is well within legal parameters,
Only the media and that too national and international media and the green
peace are of different opinion.
Now the UPA Govt. has decided to go ahead with approved Gujarat's
Mithivirdi (Chhaya) site in Bhavnagar district for an 8,000 MW nuclear power
plant. The People are protesting against it.
This will be another bone of contention in coming days.
The Alang Shipyard incident raises these following questions -
1) Safety norms
2) Plight of the migrant workers
3) And violation of all acts.
And so these measures should be taken with utmost care-
1- First all all kind safety measures be taken to avoid accidents and
2- Ship breaking should be considered as an Industry and comes under
Factory Act and various provisions for safety as per Factory Act be
Safety consciousness as a Culture be developed.
3- Ship breaking be made updated with improved technology.
4- All workers be given primary training about ship breaking and be
provided with safety kits compulsorily.
5- GMB should be made responsible for all lapses and responsible
officials be punished for all lapses.
6- The workers should be given Identity Card, appointment Card by the
employers and Labour Dept. should follow strict vigilance in this regard.
7- Interstate Migrant Workers Act be applied which ensures
accommodation, medical facilities, traveling allowances.
8- Human Right of all migrant workers and members of their families
be protected as per the
UN CONVENTION ON THE PROTECTION OF THE MIGRANT WORKERS AND MEMBERS OF THEIR
9- Ship breaking can only be after decontamination of the hazardous
10- A mandatory rule be framed to compel the owners of the ship to
clean their ships before exporting them and ensure that tanks are gas free
for hot work.
11- A full fledged Fire fighting unit with adequate number of
trained fire fighters be kept ready round the cloak.
12- Eight hour working hour norms with weekly paid holidays
workers be introduced.
13- A well equipped hospitals specially to take care of accidents
of the workers be instituted.
14- Adequate death compensation to the members of the families be
paid with out any administrative hurdles.
15- Planned accommodation for the workers be made.
16- Long term plan for infrastructure e.g. road ,housing,
drainage, water, electricity be taken up along with social infrastructure
like schools, hospitals etc.
17- Attention be taken to save marine ecology, and ecology imbalance
18- Safe guard be taken because of social segregation of the
migrants due to cultural divide.
19- The Labour Dept of Gujarat as well as the Labour depts. States
from where the migration
takes place must guard the interest of the migrants. And their working
20- The Human Rights Groups joint Parliamentary teams be allowed to
visit the ASSBY and their recommendations be mandatory for the GMB and the
Govt of Gujarat.
21- A complain Secret Cell be instituted where the workers can
complain fearlessly and get redressal with being sacked from the job.
22- The State from where migration takes place must keep the record
of the workers, make routine enquiry about the migrants, and place the
report in their respective house of the Assemblies.
23- GMB should take help of experts from different fields like
engineers, marine science experts, environmental scientists, and experts in
sociology and planning.
This article is published in Indian Age- 1st. September 2009issue
dn.rath at gmail.com
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