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Greenpeace hails SC ruling on dumping of hazardous waste

NEW DELHI OCT. 28. Greenpeace, an environmental organisation, has welcomed the Supreme Court order on dumping of hazardous wastes and formulation of guidelines for ship-breaking.

Describing the judgment as a turning point in its campaign against hazardous wastes being dumped on Indian shores, especially at the ship-breaking yards, the Greenpeace campaigner, Ramapati Kumar, pointed out that the order clearly mandates the Centre to take necessary steps at the international level.

"The onus is now clearly on ship-owners and ship-owning countries to clean up toxic wastes on board ships before sending them to India. Greenpeace will maintain its traditional role as a watchdog for the environment, and we will ensure that the Supreme Court ruling is followed not just to the letter but also in spirit,'' he said.

Based on the recommendations of a high-powered committee, headed by the former Science and Technology Minister, M.G.K. Menon, a Supreme Court Bench, comprising Justices Y.K. Sabharwal and B.N. Aggarwal, has ruled that `ship-breaking operations could not be permitted to be continued without strictly adhering to all precautionary principles and taking requisite safeguards (including) the aspect of the working condition of the workers.' The court has called for the setting up of an inter-Ministerial committee that should include representatives from environmental and labour organisations.

The court ruling has clearly pointed out that disposal of waste material must be made utilising technologies that meet the criteria of an effective destruction efficiency of 99.9 per cent; the work atmosphere and measures for protection of workers from environmental hazards must be drastically improved and the recommendations that environmental organisations and trade unions make must be made part of the proceedings.

Also, that yard owners be left with no doubt that the government bodies responsible "are serious about an immediate ban on burning of any material, whether hazardous or non-hazardous, on the beach."

Importantly, the judgment insists on decontamination of toxic wastes such as asbestos, waste oil and gas prior to export to India for breaking, mandating the Centre to take necessary steps at an international level for decontamination, and placing the responsibility for decontamination on the ship-owners.

The Environmental Justice Initiative (EJI) has welcomed the judgment and hoped that it would be implemented in letter and spirit. "The implementation of the order depends on the Ministry of Environment and Forests, the Central Pollution Control Board and the State Pollution Control Boards along with the involvement of the local people,'' said Sunita Dubey of the EJI.

The matter went to the court in 1995 after it was realised that India was a signatory to the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal — 1989. India ratified the convention in 1992 since hazardous wastes were being dumped unceremoniously on Indian shores in the name of recycling.

The bulk of the wastes came from the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany and Australia. The Supreme Court had, in 1997, banned the import of hazardous material, banned under the Basel Convention, without prior permission.Besides, wanting a blanket ban on the import of plastic in all forms, environmentalists also want a ban on the import of lead and its compounds.Ship-breaking is a major hazardous industry in India with huge quantities of wastes arriving on the Indian shores along with the old ships. As of now, a Norwegian ship is awaiting dismantling at the Alang yard in Gujarat.

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