Waste follows the path of least resistance
Yes, says Ministry of Environment & Forests even as its proposed Hazardous Rules make India least resistant to global waste flow. Startled by the proposed Draft Hazardous Materials (Management, Handling and Transboundary Movement) Rules, 2007 of Ministry of Environment & Forests currently headed by the Prime Minister, environment and public health researchers and activists have termed it as a gross act of linguistic corruption to satiate hazardous waste traders' naked lust for profit.
Unlike what is being attempted by the Ministry, the classification into hazardous waste is based on the system for the classification and labelling of dangerous substances and preparations, which ensures the application of similar principles over their whole life cycle. It is an effort to undo whatever good has been by the Supreme Court and its committees.
The Draft Rules (available at http://www.envfor.nic.in/legis/hsm/HAZMAT_Draft.pdf) propose to redefine "hazardous waste" as "hazardous material", contrary to the definition provided by the Supreme Court and UN's Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal was adopted in Basel, Switzerland on 22 March 1989 and entered into force on 5 May 1992 with its Secretariat in Geneva, Switzerland.
India is a party to this Convention. (http://www.basel.int/text/documents.html)
As per a notification signed by R.K.Vaish, Joint Secretary, Hazardous Substances Management Division, Ministry of Environment & Forests and dated 28 September 2007, the Ministry has announced its motive to amend the existing Hazardous Wastes (Management and Handling) Rules, 1989 that too has been amended from time to time imposed restrictions and prescribed procedures for management, handling and disposal of hazardous wastes as per Supreme Court's directions. The notification says, "after expiry of a period of sixty days form the date of publication of this notification in the Official Gazette; The objections or suggestions which may be received from any person in respect of the said draft rules before the period specified will be taken into consideration by the Central Government. Any person desirous of making any objection or suggestion with respect to the said draft rules may forward the same within the period so specified to the Secretary, Ministry of Environment and Forests, Paryavaran Bhawan, Central Government Offices Complex, New Delhi-110003."
In manifest contempt of court's directions, the proposed Rules entails exempting the transit countries from providing prior informed consent for all shipments of hazardous waste to India. What is baffling is that the proposal states that as long as a material contains less than 60% contamination by a hazardous constituent, then it is eco-friendly and safe for our ecology. Waste asbestos imports are banned unless they are embedded in the structure. The proposed Rules are a product of those Development fundamentalists who advocate "Economic Growth at any cost"-by poisoning and polluting human body, wildlife and environment- due to the dictates of unbridled market forces and trade.
The apex court in its landmark judgement made the position unambiguously clear. It says, "Hazardous Wastes are highly toxic in nature. The industrialization has had the effect of generation of huge quantities of hazardous wastes. These and other side effects of development gave birth to principles of sustainable development so as to sustain industrial growth. The hazardous waste required adequate and proper control and handling. Efforts are required to be made to minimise it. In developing nations, there are additional problems including that of dumping of hazardous waste on their lands by some of the nations where cost of destruction of such waste is felt very heavy. These and other allied problems gave birth to Basel Convention. The key objectives of the Basel Convention are: " to minimize the generation of hazardous wastes in terms of quantity and hazardousness; to dispose of them as close to the source of generation as possible; to reduce the transboundary movement of hazardous wastes."
The court further noted, "…the hazardous wastes situation in India is fairly grim. Hazardous wastes, found dumped in the open environment have been the cause of widespread pollution of ground water, creating drought-like situations in areas traditionally not lacking in water suppliers. Public hearings conducted by the High Power Committee on Hazardous Wastes (HPC) in several cities brought forward pleas and representations of distress from affected victims and harsh complaints about lack of response from statutory authorities. The authorities appear to have ignored several warnings, reports, investigations and studies that highlighted zones of ecological degradation due to indiscriminate dumping and disposal of hazardous wastes. The High Power Committee on Hazardous Wastes noted that there was a lack of policy and vision at the highest level. This has resulted in a very poor management system. This situation cannot be allowed to continue."
In effect, the proposed Rules is a formal announcement of globalization of the toxic chemical crisis. The co-opted silence and self-serving lip-service of a section of environmental outfits who swear by environmental justice is starkly evident. As long as there is corporate funding to political parties such unjust and barbaric acts of quid pro quo will always be attempted.
It creates a unique moment for all the environment, public health, human rights and civil rights institutions, academicians, activists, NGOs and trade unions to join hands in opposition to toxic trade in toxic wastes, toxic products and toxic technologies, that are sought to be exported from rich countries to India and to resist a similar trend within the country as well.
There is no alternative to corporate accountability; waste management through clean production and reduction in the use of toxics chemicals through life cycle assessment, precautionary principle, eco-design, extended producers' responsibility and polluter pays principle bu the same is sought to be undermined by the proposed Rules.
This Rule intends to legitimize the illegalities currently being practised. Providing a perspective from Malaysia on the illegal traffic of Blue Lady (SS Norway) Hilary Chiew has authored Hazardous shipyards and has taken stock of "Appalling working conditions and widespread pollution are common in India’s ship-breaking yards"in her piece published on 13 November, 2007 in The Star newspaper. Norwegian Cruise Line and its parent company Star Cruises Ltd (SCL) has refused to assume decontamination responsibilities for Blue Lady. Malaysian authorities appear unconcerned over the matter since the vessel had departed in May 2006. Department of Environment and Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment have not responded to calls from campaigners who urged Malaysia to exercise its rights to compel Germany to recall the ship and to abide by its obligation to prevent the illicit trade. It is learnt that the authorities are seeking legal advice. A spokesman from SCL said “the company is unable to comment at this point in time”.
Given is the full story
Appalling working conditions and widespread pollution are common in India’s ship-breaking yards.
ON A stretch of beach in the state of Gujarat, western India, impoverished Bhojpuri- and Oriya-speaking workers are salvaging whatever valuables they can find from an 11-deck cruise ship.
Anchored in Alang waters since June 2006, the 46,000-tonne Blue Lady (formerly the luxurious trans-Atlantic liner SS Norway) has been embroiled in a protracted legal battle in the Indian Supreme Court. A breakthrough for the ship-breaking industry came on Sept 11 when the apex court gave the green light for it to be dismantled.
The Supreme Court has ruled on grounds of fait accompli: the situation has become “irreversible” since the vessel has beached but it has asked that precautionary measures be taken in dismantling the ship.
The 44-year-old Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) vessel is at the centre of an international outcry against the dumping of toxic wastes on the shores of South Asian sub-standard yards that have no decontamination facilities.
The 315m-long ship was retired from the fleet of NCL in May 2003 after an engine room fire and explosion in Miami. It was later towed to Bremerhaven, Germany, for repairs but was relocated to Port Klang in August 2005. NCL was acquired by Malaysian Genting Group’s Star Cruise Ltd, the world’s third largest cruise company, in 2000.
Bangladesh, the original destination, rejected the ship in February 2006 as its contents are harmful to the environment and human health. The ship was eventually towed out of Port Klang in May 2006 for repairs in Dubai. However, the vessel instead entered the Gujarat port a month later, triggering a series of court actions.
The Indian Supreme Court allowed the vessel to enter Indian waters on humanitarian grounds when the purchaser Haryana Ship Demolition cited “difficulties due to monsoon storm”. But campaigners claimed the owner and purchaser had timed the ship’s departure to coincide with monsoons after an eight-month wait in Malaysia. (The ship has since been sold to Priya Blue Shipping Ltd.)
NGOs Platform on Ship-breaking, a grouping of Greenpeace International, Basel Action Network, Ban Asbestos Network of India and nine other groups, has since appealed the decision which it claimed has violated the same court’s ruling five days earlier. On Sept 6, the court had banned the entry of contaminated vessels and asked the government to produce a comprehensive ship-breaking policy.
Gopal Krishna of Ban Asbestos Network India alleged that the about-turn was due to collusion between government officials and the steel lobby that is desperate to keep the business alive at the notorious beach.
The ship is believed to contain 1,200 tonnes of asbestos-contaminated materials, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), radioactive materials and other hazardous substances that could endanger the lives of nearly 700 workers and some 30,000 villagers.
The dismantling is expected to take one year and will be done by uneducated migrant workers with little safety training and equipment.
Permission to beach the vessel was granted on Aug 1, 2006, by the court following inspection by the Technical Committee. NGOs Platform said the inspection did not comply with international and national laws.
It said the inspection team failed to quantify and identify the location of asbestos and PCBs on the ship, and failed to address the absence of technical capacity of the Alang shipyard to manage the dangerous materials and protect the workers. It pointed out that the government ignored an offer from a salvage company to refloat the vessel.
Under the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal, ships that have outlived their service are considered hazardous waste and unless decontaminated, are forbidden from being exported. The convention was designed to curb the dumping of toxic wastes from developed countries to developing nations, which often have less stringent environmental laws.
The Blue Lady saga mirrors the case of the Danish ship Riky in 2005, which was dismantled amid accusations of violations of both the convention and a court order that demanded decontamination and an inventory of hazardous materials onboard. In early 2006, French aircraft carrier Le Clemenceau was allowed to enter Indian waters laden with toxic substances until the French government, under intense public pressure and legal actions, recalled the ship.
Appeals by NGOs Platform urging the ship owner, Norwegian Cruise Line and its parent company Star Cruises Ltd (SCL) to assume responsibilities for Blue Lady went unanswered.
NGOs Platform also claimed that SCL withheld vital information from the German authorities when it sought permission to leave Bremerhaven. It said as early as December 2004, NCL had devalued SS Norway to a scrap value of US$12mil and was aware of the hefty cost to remove the wastes, rendering the sale for reuse unlikely. Hence, the intent to dispose was formed but not disclosed to the German and Malaysian authorities.
Meanwhile, Malaysian authorities appear unconcerned over the matter since the vessel had departed in May 2006. Department of Environment and Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment have not responded to calls from campaigners who urged Malaysia to exercise its rights to compel Germany to recall the ship and to abide by its obligation to prevent the illicit trade.
It is learnt that the authorities are seeking legal advice. A spokesman from SCL said “the company is unable to comment at this point in time”.
In an analytical article in Frontline "The dilution of a principle" V. Venkatesan argues that "The Supreme Court judgment permitting the dismantling of Blue Lady reverses key milestones in environmental jurisprudence. "
In "Shipload of trouble" Lyla Bavadam submits, "The Blue Lady case is a litmus test of the Indian government’s stand on hazardous wastes" in the November 03-16, 2007 issue of Frontline.
Waste follows the path of least resistance
The Environment Ministry, at least since 1995, has been guilty of numerous acts of omission and commission
After hazardous wastes, now it’s municipal and hospital wastes. It is not that we did not know about it but the condemnation from the Union Health Minister is noteworthy since it shows how waste is flowing from the North to the South as a global trend.
This underlines the importance of Prior Informed Consent. Although the custom officials of the Kochi port deserve appreciation unlike the officials at Alang port in Gujarat who have continued to let hazardous waste enter Indian waters with impunity. In Kochi, three containers sent from New York based Belsun Corporation in the name of recycling had medical wastes, municipal, surgical, bio-medical and even e-waste.
As in Kochi, at Alang too the ship named Blue Lady (SS Norway) that was allowed anchorage on humanitarian grounds admittedly has a huge amount of hazardous wastes such as asbestos, radioactive material, incineration ash, ballast water, PCBs, heavy metals.
But due to the lame and hollow excuse of the supposed irreversibility of the ship offered by Gopal Subramaniam, Additional Solicitor General, it remains there, although Prof. M.G.K. Menon, Chairman, High Power Committee on Hazardous Wastes, had recommended that it be sent back. In this case the company in question is Star Cruise Ltd that has so far successfully attempted to escape its decontamination cost in the aftermath of boiler explosion of 2003 in Miami.
In March 2007, Bhagvatsinh Haubha Gohil, sarpanch of Sosiya, Tehsil Talaja, Gujarat, filed an application on behalf of 12 sarpanchs and 30,000 people who live within the distance of 1 to 25 km from the ship breaking yard at Alang before the Justice Balakrishnan bench, which listed the matter for hearing before the Justice Arijit Pasayat and Justice S.H. Kapadia bench in the Blue Lady case.
These people largely depend on seafood that is under threat from ship-breaking. The ship in question contains a large amount of asbestos that poses a huge risk to the villagers. Their application is yet to be heard although the final orders were passed on September 11. The 45-year old, 315-metre long and 16-storey asbestos laden toxic ship still has radioactive material at more than 1,000 places.
The hazardous waste generating ship-breaking industry is already known to have a higher accident rate (2 workers per 1,000) than the mining industry (0.34 per 1,000). This is considered the worst in the world, and 16 per cent of the workers here are suffering from asbestos related diseases. In its order on September 11, the Supreme Court advanced “the concept of ‘balance’ under the principle of proportionality applicable in the case of sustainable development…” and ruled:
“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.”
This is the logic advanced by the Union Environment Ministry that makes India a dumping ground of developed countries. At least since 1995, this Ministry has been guilty of numerous acts of omission and commission that endanger environmental health. It is the respondent in the hazardous wastes case and has been fined by the apex court for dereliction of duty.
By not hearing the matter of gross illegality committed by Riky, the Danish ship and by condoning the entry of Blue Lady in Indian territorial waters in violation of court’s own orders of October 14, 2003 and September 6, 2007, all relevant international laws such as the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal have been violated besides international labour conventions and treaties — that govern the breaking of contaminated ships — to all of which India is a signatory.
The condemnation by the Health Ministry makes a case for the merger of the Environment Ministry with it because it is more concerned about the environmental health of the citizens.
November 04, 2007 The Hindu
P.S:Refusing to learn any lessons from its past failures, Indian Ministry of New and Renewable Energy is promoting obsolete waste treatment technology by misplaced claims of Rakesh Mehta, currently Power Secretary, Delhi Government (foremer Commissioner of Municipal Corporation Delhi about Carbon Credits from Incineration of Refuse Derived Fuel (RDF) that is based on combustion of municipal solid waste. It is reliably learnt that the Timarpur-Okhla Waste Management Co Pvt Ltd (TOWMCL), the Special Purpose Vehicle between Infrastructure Leasing & Financial Services Ltd. (IL&FS) and has received registration for its integrated waste to energy CDM project by the CDM Executive Board of UNFCCC although Indian incineration based waste to energy projects are quite manifestly business as usual projects, therefore, they do not meet the additionality criteria. It has received registration in November, 2007. This integrated project hopes to generate 2.6 million Certified Emissions Reductions (CERs) over a 10 year crediting period beginning 2009. The proposed project includes two MSW processing plants at Okhla and Timarpur. The Okhla plant will also include a 16MW power plant using RDF and biogas derived from waste to be used as fuel for renewable power. Average RDF is about 225 TPD at both locations. A biomethantion plant with 100TPD capacity is also planned at Okhla in New Delhi. A significant point to note is that in India, income from CERs are not taxed. They wish to receive CERs for this project to earn revenue by selling those CERs.
The central problem with the Timarpur proposal is that waste burning technology cannot automatically be deemed a renewable energy project. If anything, MCD and TWMCPL's attempt to classify the WTE plant as a CDM project is far fetched and misleading. Waste incineration is itself a greenhouse gas emitter and cannot qualify as CDM project. Incineration of waste violates Kyoto Protocol because as per the Protocol waste incineration is a green house gas emitter.
Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) allows industrialised countries to meet their emission reduction targets by paying for green house gas emission reduction in developing countries. Say that a company in India switches from coal power to biomass and that the CDM board certifies that by doing this, the company has reduced carbon dioxide emissions by 100,000 tonnes per year. The company will be issued 100,000 Certified Emissions Reductions (CERs). One CER corresponds to reduced green house gas emissions by one tonne of carbon dioxide per year.
For example, if a project generates energy using wind power instead of burning coal, and saves 50 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year, it can claim 50 CERs.
Under the Kyoto Protocol, for instance the United Kingdom (a developed country) has to reduce its green house gas emissions by 1 million tonnes of carbon dioxide each year. Continuing with the example above, if the UK purchases the 100,000 CERs from the Indian company, its target goes down from 1 million tonnes/year to 900,000 tonnes per year, making the goal that much easier to achieve. Developed countries are expected to buy CERs from developing countries under the CDM process to help them achieve their Kyoto targets. CERs are therefore a "certificate", like a stock and help achieve trading of emissions credits.