Legal Correspondent

"We will ask the ship to stay outside Indian territorial waters till the matter is heard"

French Government sticks to its guns, says ship contains no asbestosWhen the French Government had not permitted the ship to be broken there, why should we allow the ship to come to India?: Court

New Delhi: The Shipping Decommissioning Industry Corporation (SDIC) on Monday gave an undertaking to the Supreme Court that it would not permit the French ship, Clemenceau, containing asbestos to enter the Indian Exclusive Economic Zone.

Senior counsel Mukul Rohtagi appearing for SDIC, which owns the decommissioned ship, made this submission before a Bench of Justice Arijit Pasayat and Justice S.H. Kapadia during the course of the hearing of a petition filed by Research Foundation for Science seeking a direction to stop the entry of the ship into the territorial waters of India on the basis of the interim report of the court-appointed monitoring committee on hazardous wastes.

Counsel for French Government Pinky Anand denied that the ship contained asbestos. Asserting that the French Government had not violated any law, she said, "We will place all the materials before the committee at its meeting on January 20."

Sanjay Parikh, counsel for the petitioner, submitted that the ship should not be permitted to enter India. He said that by allowing the ship, India would be violating the Basel Convention and other environmental laws. He said the ship should be decontaminated completely before allowing its entry.

Advocate S. Murlidhar, who also filed an application, submitted that the committee had earlier permitted a Danish ship to enter India for ship breaking. He said the committee must explain "what is the difference between the Danish and the French ships."

However, the counsel for SDIC submitted that the committee was yet to give its final recommendations and the apex court should await the outcome of the committee's report.

The Bench 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."

The Bench asked senior counsel for the Customs department A. Subba Rao to file an affidavit indicating the steps it had taken to allow or not allow the ship to enter Indian waters. It observed, "You cannot wash off your hands. Tell us whether we can allow such a ship to enter." The counsel conceded that a Bill of Entry had to be issued by the department to permit the ship to come to India. He said the Egypt Government had on Sunday cleared the ship to sail further.

When counsel for the petitioner insisted on interim protection, Mr. Rohatgi gave an undertaking that the ship would not be allowed to enter Indian waters during the pendency of the matter before the apex court. He assured the court "we will ask the ship to stay outside the Indian territorial waters till the matter is heard." The Bench adjourned the hearing to February 13.

The committee at its meeting held in Mumbai on January 6 had in its report asked the Government, the Gujarat Pollution Control Board and the Gujarat Maritime Board not to allow the ship to enter India.

The committee decided to hold another meeting in Mumbai on January 20. The committee sent its report to the Supreme Court and the report was taken up for consideration on Monday.

The report states that "the entry of `Le Clemenceau' in Indian sovereign territory, specifically, within the 220 nautical miles exclusive economic zone of the Indian Union would be a violation of the directions given by the apex Court by its order dated October 14, 2003."

After elaborating on the January 6 proceedings held in Mumbai, the report asked the Government and the GPCB "to take adequate and effective steps to ensure that the ship is not allowed in Indian waters as decided by the Monitoring Committee."