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Wise Coastal Practices for Sustainable Human Development Forum

Industrial safety concerns in the ship breaking industry / Alang-India.

Posted By: Vidyut Joshi
Date: Friday, 27 August 1999, at 12:22 p.m.

Key words: integrated coastal management, standards, stakeholder participation.

INTRODUCTION: part of an Integrated Coastal Zone Management Plan, it is necessary to review safety and related issues at the Alang and Sosia Ship Breaking Yard (ASSBY). ASSBY is located on the coast of Bhavnagar district and in the Gulf of Cambay, a distance of 56 km south from Bhavnagar city. This place has the best continental shelf available for ship breaking in the whole of Asia. At the same time, it is known for the highest tidal level (10 meters) in the country. The vast expanse of intertidal zone gets exposed during ebb tide which makes it convenient for ship breaking activity, whereas the high tide makes it possible to accommodate big ships. The first ship breaking activity started in 1983 at Alang. Today ASSBY boasts the biggest ship breaking yard in whole of Asia with 182 plots carrying on this activity year round. Last year, ships worth 3.2 million tones were broken in this yard. With the facilitating measures in the central budget, the ship breaking activity has the potential to achieve more tonnage.

THE IMPACT OF THE ALANG AND SOSIA SHIP BREAKING YARD (ASSBY): The impact of any project will be different on different groups depending upon the way their lives and interests are affected by the project. Their attitudes towards the project are shaped in response to the way the project affects them. There are basically four interest groups involved in the ship breaking activity. They are: the Government of Gujarat through the Gujarat Maritime Board (GMB), the ship breaking management, the workers or labourers, and the villagers in the ASSBY area. All four groups are stakeholders. They have immensely benefited from the ship breaking industry. However, the sudden expansion of the ship breaking activity, a lack of trained management and manpower and the unorganised nature of the industry has created some problems also. The problems of safety and the work environment in and around the yard are common for all the four stakeholders.

THE ISSUES: The Gujarat Ecology Commission has carried out a detailed study of ecological restoration at ASSBY. However, without going into the ecological details of the project, three basic issues can be mentioned: 1) issues causing ecological imbalance at Alang and in nearby areas, 2) issues causing impact on nearby villages and village infrastructure, and 3) issues causing concern during ship breaking. The ship breaking activity itself is manual labour intensive and unorganised. It is necessary to bring advanced technology to this industry so that the rate of accidents can be further reduced. The uproar on the Alang situation in the Western media is uncalled for, as the situation at Alang is within control and not beyond repair. What is required is a sustainable coastal zone management approach.

Alang is certainly the best location and neither Pakistan nor Bangladesh can compete with Alang. It is the entrepreneurship of ship breakers which has brought this development. However, if we do not take the necessary steps to solve the problems, we will lose Alang. All concerned parties will have to come together to solve the problems. Integrated coastal zone management is the key word for the development of Gujarat in the 21st century. A time for development of a silver corridor on the coastal belt of Saurashtra, in place of the existing golden corridor, has now come. There will be a lot of development pressures on marine resources, marine transportation, effluent discharge in marine area, and industrial pressures on coastal area. All these things call for an integrated coastal zone management (ICZM) approach. There are four stakeholders so far as ASSBY is concerned: (1) the Gujarat Maritime Board (GMB) or the Government, (2) ship breakers, (3) workers, and (4) nearby villagers. These four stakeholders have different stakes in the ship breaking activity and they will try to influence the policy and programmes. Hence, an integrated plan could only be evolved after meaningful participation of all four stakeholders. The ship breaking activity as it runs today calls for much improvement. The industry, which is unorganised today, could earn more profit and long term benefit if it were organised on scientific management lines which incorporated a sustainable development philosophy. It is in the interest of ship breakers that they cease to be fair weather friends and become scientific managers. GMB should realise that integrated coastal zone management is a multi disciplinary endeavour. It will have to take help from experts of different disciplines like engineering, marine science, environmental science, sociology and planning. GMB will have to adopt a less rigid stance and call for participation of all these experts.

There are around 24,000 direct workers and some 11,000 to 12,000 workers in allied activities in the ASSBY area. Out of around 35,000 workers, according to one survey, only 0.55% belong to Gujarat. It means that more than 99 percent of the workers are from other states. They are mainly from three states, Orissa, U.P. and Bihar. They are mainly from backward and drought prone regions of those states. This means that this is a migrant labour force. The Interstate Migrant Workman Act will have to be applied here. If this Act is applied, most of the problems of working and living conditions can be solved, because the ISMW Act mentions accommodation, medical facilities and even travelling allowances. Wages are not a problem for these workers, but the working living conditions are hazardous and inhuman.

So far as safety aspects are concerned, no standards are observed either by workers or by plot management. Out of 361 workers, according to the survey, 14 (3.88%) workers reported accidents, 11 workers (3.05%) sustained burns and 14 workers (3.88%) reported injuries. Ten workers (2.77%) wear helmets, only one worker reported having gloves, two workers reported having shoes and three workers reported having welding glasses.

Ship breaking labour is a semi-technical task. The survey mentions that 32 workers (8.62%) reported that they received some informal training, while the rest of them are untrained. Working hours are not decided. More than 50 percent of the workers reported that they work for between 8 and 12 hours. The state of industrial safety is found to be very poor as only a few plot owners provide safety equipment such as shoes, glasses, gloves etc. The nozzles of gas cylinders create accidents due to heat and explosion. The oil remaining in fuel tankers also is a major cause of accidents. Fire accidents take place many times. As of today, the ship breaking industry falls under the Factory Act and they have to follow Factory Act rules. There are various rules covering safety provisions mentioned in Factory Act and they should be followed religiously. However, what is more important is the development of a safety conscious mind set or culture for the ship breaking activity. All concerned stakeholders will have to come together to evolve such a safety conscious mind set.

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