Vaiju Naravane

Supreme Court Monitoring Committee's queries also not adequately answered

Paris: France has still not provided an inventory of the exact amount of asbestos or its location on the former aircraft carrier Clemenceau.

Sources close to India's Supreme Court Monitoring Committee said the French government's presentation of its case to the SCMC which met on Friday was "inadequate."

The sources said: "One of the Committee's earliest demands was for a full inventory. This demand, which was formulated when permission was given for dismantling the ship in India and was reiterated in March 2005, has till not been met."

Neither the French ambassador to India, Dominique Girard, nor Mr Briac Beilvert of SDIC, the Panama-registered private company that acquired the ship, was able to give adequate answers to several questions raised by the committee.

Supreme Court order

The Supreme Court's order of October 14, 2003 on ship breaking (Article 13) states: "A complete inventory of hazardous material on board of ship should be made mandatory for the ship owner. And no breaking permission should be granted without such an inventory. This inventory should also be submitted by the GMB (Gujarat Maritime Board) to SPCBs (State pollution Control Boards) concerned to ensure safe disposal of hazardous and toxic waste.''

The failure to provide an inventory goes against one of the most basic conditions for ship breaking laid down by the Supreme Court.

"The fact that no inventory has been provided does not surprise me," said Dr Annie

Thebaud-Mony, an expert on work-related illnesses who testified before the committee on behalf of Ban Asbestos and other international NGOs.

"They have been unable to provide the inventory because none exists. This is in contravention of French law and international law under the Basel Convention," she told The Hindu .

In an open letter addressed to Mr Dominique Girard and sent to various publications, Ms. Thebaud-Mony points to this glaring gap in the evidence presented by French authorities before the SCMC: "Knowingly, you have made no reference to the fact that you are under obligation to evaluate the location and the risks of asbestos (on board) and carry out a full technical diagnosis before undertaking any work. Had you done this, you would have been obliged to table these data alongside the annexures in your testimony before the Supreme Court Monitoring Committee... This detailed inventory of risks is obligatory in the framework of the Basel Convention," the letter says.

Reappraisal

In France itself, there appears to be a reappraisal of the decision to send the Clemenceau to India. A French official speaking on condition of strict anonymity told The Hindu that France had "failed to properly prepare the dossier of the Clemenceau. It is evident we did not fully appreciate the extent of negative public and media opinion in India. If it is true that an inventory was not produced, it reflects badly on us. We emerge looking either completely incompetent or totally cynical."

Court decision on February 13

The Supreme Court's final decision on whether the ship should be allowed into India to be broken up is to be announced on February 13, a particularly awkward moment for the governments of the two countries, since President Chirac is to begin a 36-hour official visit to India on February 20.