17 February, 2006

The Clemenceau issue

The French aircraft carrier Clemenceau has on board 27,000 tonnes of steel, asbestos, PCBs, lead, mercury, and other toxic chemicals. Steel can be recycled and it is said to be the cheapest source. But the objection is about hazardous wastes like asbestos and others mentioned above.

(Nobody knows the exact amount of asbestos on the ship: French reports say it is around 40 to 50 tonnes while some other reports put it above 500 tonnes, still others say it is more than 700 tonnes.)

Clemenceau was off to India to be broken up by hand in Alang ship-breaking yard on the Gujarat coast where impoverished workers are injured and die every day of hazardous asbestos. The international standard for asbestos inhalation by men is less than 5 fibers/litre whereas the inhalation level in these units is more than 300 fibers/litre. No activist has ever raised his or her voice in this regard.

Egypt has serious doubts about the load Clemenceau carries and hence objected to allow passage to the ship thru Suez canal and now the ship has to return to France taking the long route around Africa. The French government is of the opinion that much of the toxic waste of the ship has been removed and hence it is not violating Basel Convention that bans trade on hazardous materials like asbestos.

But environmentalists and activists of "Greenpeace" and “Ban Asbestos Network” say that these are only excuses to dump hazardous wastes in poor countries like India which still do not have strong rules to prevent such dumping. Annually about 600-700 large sea-vessels are brought to Asian countries like India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, China and Turkey for breaking them into scrap affecting the workers and polluting the soil, sea and marine organisms of the area.

Let us face the fact: "Ship breaking units have disastrous consequences on marine ecosystem besides leading to many other social and economic problems". But another angle to the story is that the workers in the Ship breaking units want the ship to come albeit with toxic materials because it provides food to them however toxic it is. The pathetic working conditions, lack of any safety measures, utter disregard for the workers’ rights are terrible.

there are more than 700 large-scale and small-scale industries in India that use asbestos as the raw material; more than 5 lakh people are employed in such industries.

(The Directive Principles of State Policy in Part IV of our Constitution talk of providing ideal working conditions for all but the reality is nowhere near the ideal conditions described there.)

How serious is the risk?

Nearly 50 countries in the world have banned the use of asbestos. The adverse impact of asbestos use has been further established with major Japanese manufacturers having admitted scores of asbestos-related deaths amongst former employees, customers and local people.

The news about the death of 86 former employees of Nichias Corporation due to asbestos-related disease since 1976 (an avg of 3 deaths per year in a single organization over three decades) attracted media attention throughout Japan on July 5, 2005.

There are several other Japanese companies, which have recently disclosed asbestos deaths amongst their workforce. But the extent of the human tragedy due to asbestos exposure remains uncovered in India.

The Union Ministry of Health informed the Parliament in 2003 that studies by the National Institute of Occupational Health, Ahmedabad, have shown that exposure to any type of asbestos can lead to the development of asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma.

White asbestos continues to be in use in India although other kinds such as blue and brown asbestos are banned. About one lakh (0.1 million) workers are directly exposed and 3 crore (30 million) construction workers are being subjected to asbestos dust on a day-to-day basis. Besides the workers, even common citizens are at risk.

Strange Case:

In Canada, there is a "no home use" policy for asbestos but Canada happily exports asbestos to India! In India, the total use of asbestos is 1.25 lakh tonnes, out of which more than 1.0 lakh tonne is being imported.

The ruling of the Supreme Court that the Clemenceau issue should not be discussed in the media raised several eyebrows. What is sub judice? Wait for a later post.

15 February, 2006


This blog continues its mission ie, to create awareness among its readers about serious, socially relevant issues. I have started a couple of new blogs to air my views on different matters. I am moving some of the posts from here to avee-ivee.blogspot.com:
1. puraanaalu.blogspot.com throws new light on old stories. (Telugu blog - u need IE 6.0 or later versions to view)
2. avee-ivee.blogspot.com about miscellaneous topics (bilingual).

11 February, 2006

Good news and Bad news

The good news is that Telugu media is also publishing reports about the damage done by Cola plants. See the report: http://www.eenadu.net/story.asp?qry1=28&reccount=31

and the bad news is that some of our "stars" are still turning a Nelsonian eye to the common cause and now Sania Mirza has joined them. She is all set to promote the cool drink "Sprite" of Coca Cola group.

06 February, 2006

A habit that may hit Hyderabadis hard

DANGEROUS TREND: Yakking on mobile while driving.

K. Srinivas Reddy

HYDERABAD: Hyderabadis sure are unable to get over this syndrome - Driving WhileYakking (DWY).

Motorists in the twin cities seem to willingly give themselves up to this irresistible urge to yak while driving. But the law enforcers are not amused anymore. Police have begun cracking the whip after the Andhra Pradesh High Court specifically pointed out the growing tendency to flout the law against use of mobile phones while driving.

And instances of motorists arguing with policemen have been on the rise ever since police launched a drive against the DWY syndrome three months ago. As many as 13,000 motorists have been flagged down and handed over penalties of Rs 200 each. But that was during the period of leniency -- the drive was limited to certain traffic junctions only.

Personnel of the traffic police wing are now bracing themselves for a vigorous enforcement and also for some real hot arguments from the motorists. "It can be distracting and it's dangerous not only for the mobile user, but also other road users. We will certainly check this," asserts Additional Commissioner A.K. Khan.

Why would people chat on mobile phones while driving? The question defies any answer as everyone agrees that talking while driving is certainly distracting. "Yes. It's dangerous. Police are doing the right thing," concurred Y. Preetam, a businessman from Narayanguda.

Hands-free earphones

Intriguingly, he was answering the query from The Hindu on his mobile while driving.

Would the police crack down on use of hands-free earphones or those using the Bluetooth? Mr. Khan says the enforcement is against those taking or making calls while driving, whether they use hands-free sets or not. But considering the shortage of manpower to catch the motorists in the act, police could only crack down on those holding mobile phones to their ears.

"They should be pragmatic and encourage 'hands-free' conversations," says A. Srikanth, a dentist. "If distraction is the issue, what about DVD players in cars? Will it take few more years before the police wake up?" questions A. Kalyan Reddy from Padmaraonagar. A software analyst Sanjay Punjari argues: "I don't see any reason why hands-free mobile conversations should not be allowed. Otherwise, the police move to ban talking on cell phones is a right decision."

So what do you think? Write to us on downtownhyd@thehindu.co.in

(Published on 2nd Feb 2006)

yak or yack = to talk continuously about things that are not very serious or important