[Marxism] ON THE FACE OF DEATH--ORKERS PLIGHT IN ALANG SHIP YARD BREAKING

DNRath 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 
morals.
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 
near here.




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 
limit.
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 
die"

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 
seashore",


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 
commenced.
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 
Lady
 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 
environments.


 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 
deaths
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 
FAMILIES.
9-        Ship breaking can only be after decontamination of the hazardous 
substance.
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 
be guarded.
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 
conditions
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




 





More information about the Marxism mailing list