Damage control

Damage control the Union ministry of labour has taken a serious note of the continuing deaths of workers involved in shipbreaking at Alang in Gujarat. Recently, a carbon monoxide gas leak in one of the ships killed three workers. On January 7, 2000, the ministry held a meeting in New Delhi to discuss the problems of the workers. Laxmi Dhar Mishra, Union labour secretary, expressed concern over the hazardous working conditions at the yards and stressed the need to take appropriate action in this regard.

The ministry had set up a committee to look into the safety and health problems of workers at Alang, after a story titled "Bare facts" appeared in Down To Earth in March, 1998, and an initiative taken by Anil Agarwal, director, Centre for Science and Environment ( cse ), New Delhi.While submitting the findings and recommendations of the committee, Dibya B Deb, deputy director general, directorate general factory advice service and labour institutes, Mumbai, said that about 40 to 50 liquefied petroleum gas ( lpg) cylinders are stored in each shipbreaking yard. Interestingly, none of these plots have the mandatory license from the department of explosives. The workers are also not trained to handle the scrapping jobs, he added.

Deb said that only fatal accidents were reported to the authorities concerned at Alang. In the four years period from 1994-97, hundreds of fatal accidents had occurred at Alang, he said.

Agarwal, who was also present at the meeting, said that the shipbreakers at Alang should be asked to contribute money to create a better infrastructure so that health hazards could be minimised. Only shipbreakers meeting environmental and safety norms should be allowed to operate, he said. Meanwhile, the labour secretary has asked cse to submit its own set of observations and recommendations about the safety and environmental problems at Alang.

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