Safety situation in shipbreaking yards in India critical, says UN report

A United Nations (UN) special rapporteur said that the health and safety situation in many shipbreaking yards in India still remains 'critical' and there is a need to improve training facilities and working conditions for labourers

The health and safety situation in many shipbreaking yards in India still remains 'critical' and there is a need to improve training facilities and working conditions for labourers, a United Nations (UN) special rapporteur (reporter) said on Thursday.

Professor Okechukwu Ibeanu, the special rapporteur of the UN, also noted that only 3% of the 400,000 metric tonnes of e-waste generated in India is recycled in authorised facilities and recommended a national plan for safe management of electronic products.

The UN special rapporteur on the adverse effects of the movement and dumping of toxic and dangerous products and wastes on the enjoyment of human rights, was addressing the media after wrapping up a 10-day visit to examine India's progress in disposal of hazardous wastes.

Prof Ibeanu, who visited shipbreaking yards in Alang in Gujarat and Mumbai and an e-waste recycling facility in Roorkee, acknowledged the 'significant progress' made by India, including in developing an 'impressive' regulatory framework for environmentally sound management of toxic products.

Pointing to the differing opinions on environmental impact of shipbreaking, he also favoured an independent study to assess the adverse effects that may be caused by the discharge of hazardous material into the natural environment.

While noting the 'consistent efforts' being made by authorities in Gujarat to reduce risks to workers, he said, "The health and safety situations prevailing in most of the shipbreaking yards I visited remain critical as witnessed by 12 fatal accidents that occurred in Alang during the course of last year."

The five-day training provided to workers in Alang is 'grossly inadequate' and the facilities should be improved, Pro Ibeanu said. "In Mumbai, workers do not receive any form of training, making them more prone to serious accidents and injuries," he said.

Identifying other "shortcomings", Prof Ibeanu said that medical facilities established on or just outside the yards in Alang and Mumbai do not possess sufficient human, technical and financial resources to provide any treatment other than first-aid for minor injuries.

"The Red Cross facility I visited in Alang is not equipped to deal with serious accidents, and can only count on four medical doctors to provide healthcare not only to some 30,000 workers in the yards, but also the neighbouring villages of Alang and Sosia," he said.

He said he was 'shocked' to see the conditions in which most workers live in Alang and Mumbai. "Semi-skilled and unskilled workers live in makeshift facilities lacking basic sanitation facilities, electricity and even safe drinking water," Prof Ibeanu said.

On e-waste, the UN expert said while the Indian government is making efforts to meet the challenge, the international community should come up with technology assistance.

Prof Ibeanu, who will submit a report to the UN Human Rights Council, said the dismantling of electronic equipment by small-scale informal laboratories can pose health risks and favoured a national implementation plan for proper management of electronic products, with special focus of integrating informal recyclers into the formal economy.
 

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