Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Beware of Fifth Columnists !

Beware of Fifth Columnists (Mir Zafars, Jai Chands)!

We are witnessing verbal gymnastics in full swing in the JNU campus as elsewhere. While observing different point of views of various outfits, one is concerned over the attempts of some outfits to ‘mis-diagnose’ the reasons of ill-health and health inequality in India. Why no one has raised this issue so far?

The propaganda, while putting the blame on politicians, takes pain to glorify (a) the role of “western medicine and a status quoist profession of doctors”, (b) the charitable “medical camp approach” and (c) to self-perpetuate its own tribe. Irrespective of the political ilk of these outfits, the fact that they are an outcome of promoters of corporate interest that legitimizes contract system for workers is revealing enough. These outfits end up supporting the main beneficiaries (and exploiters) and ignore the mushrooming of exploitative clinics in cities at the cost of both the urban poor and the rural poor. Don’t we know who these collaborators are who end up supporting contract work regime?

The nexus between medical professionals and pharma companies is an established fact. What is worse is that both the urban poor and rural poor are being administered outdated, harmful, banned and spurious drugs. India remains one among the few third world countries that connives at the ongoing inhuman practice of guinea pig medical experiments on poor people for foreign firms. Do the outfits have remedy for this menace?

The damaging impact of these male dominated professionals on ill heath and health inequality in India is well documented in academic literature. There is a promise of working for Health for all. While the promise of universal health care is worth struggling for, it gives a sense of déjà vu. Didn’t the National Health Policy, 1983 had this as its target? After failing to meet the target, instead of working towards overcoming the admitted failure, the National Health Policy 2002 changed the target. Is there any reason to believe that the outfits who make this promise will not do the same?

While the aim for 24 X 7 medical facilities is understandable, their use of medical facility as the route for achieving health for all is deceptive. Is “medical facility” and “health for all” one and the same?

Some of these outfits are glaringly one dimensional with their obsession with single issue. Far-reaching structural changes in the land-tenurial system and institutional reforms for the educational and economic upliftment of the weaker sections of society are required but these outfits have not even taken note of it. Is sloganeering sufficient to bring equality even as the country is getting infested with at least 36 billionaires whose combined wealth is one-fourth of India’s GDP? All contemplative minds must remain ever vigilant about the various shapes and sizes of the fifth columnists in the campus and even in their own outfits.

-public interest release
(Gopal Krishna, 47 Brahmaputra and M. Kumaran, 163 Tapti)

Friday, October 26, 2007

new anti-pregnancy vaccine not a magic solution

Note: "There is an urgent need for health and family welfare services as acknowledged by the National Population Policy of 2000. Without meeting this existing need, to think of magic bullets is absurd. What we need is safe, effective, user-friendly and user-controlled contraception and not something which has huge potential for misuse in India's target-driven family planning programme."

-- Mohan Rao, professor, Centre for Social Medicine and Community Health, Jawaharlal Nehru University and member of the National Population Commission in Outlook, October 29, 2007

Immaculate Injection?

A new anti-pregnancy vaccine may yet be a trusted contraceptive

* Clinical trials in the early 1990s led to protests from women's groups. The project was shelved.
* Revived after a genetically modified antigen was developed last year
* The vaccine generates antibodies that do not allow the uterus to be readied for the embryo
* Critics say focus should be on safer and user-controlled contraceptions like condoms
* The vaccine does not protect against sexually transmitted diseases

It was a pathbreaking medical project that once fell victim to its own side-effects: coming in the form of ethical doubts and partisan ire. Now, clinical tests of one of India's most ambitious and controversial vaccines to prevent pregnancy have been relaunched, with the Indian Council of Medical Research expressing interest in a new version of the vaccine. Currently, it is being tested on mice and will later be tested on women volunteers. Work on the first form of the vaccine was shelved over a decade ago because of limited success. The clinical trials in Delhi and Chandigarh had also come in for sharp criticism from women activists who alleged that those tested were not informed volunteers and that the vaccine had possible side-effects.

But it has now been revived after a genetically engineered version of the human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) vaccine was developed last April by G.P. Talwar, director of the New Delhi-based Talwar Research Foundation. A former director of the National Institute of Immunology (NII), Talwar conceived of such a vaccine in the late 1970s and worked on it through the '80s and early '90s.

About a month back, an ICMR task force met to study the data produced by Talwar and his team from tests conducted on mice at NII. "The data showed that all the mice administered with the vaccine had produced promising levels of antibodies. We have now asked Talwar to generate more data using mice of different genetic backgrounds," Indira Nath, chairman of the ICMR task force, told Outlook.

The project also got a boost following Manmohan Singh's visit to the US in March 2005, when an Indo-American forum on contraception expressed its interest. "I had forgotten about this project," admits Talwar. "Then the Americans came asking about its progress, claiming even women there wanted such a vaccine." The project is now being supported by the central government's department of biotechnology.

The vaccine works by generating antibodies that neutralise HCG, a hormone secreted by pregnant women. HCG plays a critical role in ensuring pregnancy, as it readies the uterus for the embryo to be implanted. Devoid of the hormone, the uterus rejects the embryo, thus preventing pregnancy. However, this effect is reversible because the antibodies generated by a single dose of the vaccine lose their effect over time and allow the HCG hormone to resume its normal function. A woman who wishes to remain immune to pregnancy for longer periods would therefore need to take booster doses.

The current form of the vaccine differs from its older version in that it uses genetically engineered HCG unlike the earlier version, which used HCG purified from the urine of pregnant women. The HCG is fused with alien substances (like tetanus toxoid) that alter its properties and also act as carriers, provoking the body to create antibodies to HCG.

"The vaccine can now be industrially produced and at much cheaper rates than it could be with the earlier form," Talwar says. The vaccine in its present form will also have to be injected, but work is on to develop an alternative which can be orally consumed.

But before the vaccine reaches the market, like all drugs and vaccines, it too will have to clear several efficacy and toxicology tests.It will also have to be tested on women. Talwar declined to set a deadline to his project. "Why should I? No scientist can say when his work is going to end till it actually ends. All I can say at this stage is that the vaccine is on its way and that the progress is encouraging." This vaccine, if released to the public successfully, may have a lasting impact on the market for contraceptives.

Women at a family planning centre

But not everyone is as enthusiastic about the vaccine as Talwar and his colleagues. Notes N.B. Sarojini, a health activist with Sama, a Delhi-based women's health group that is opposed to the project: "Vaccines are supposed to fight infectious diseases, not pregnancy, which is a normal function of the human body. It may also cause auto-immune disorders, like allergies or hypersensitivity. It also does not offer protection against sexually transmitted diseases."

Incidentally, the earlier form of the vaccine had its limitations since only 60 to 80 per cent of the women generated the required level of antibodies (50 nanogram/ml of blood) to prevent pregnancy. Moreover, human trials of the vaccine, conducted in aiims and Safdarjung Hospital in New Delhi and pgimer in Chandigarh, generated controversy. Talwar and his team were accused of not taking informed consent from the participants and experimenting on lactating women. Talwar says this in his defence: "These accusations have no scientific basis. Why would I use lactating women in any case? The protocol never stated we would test it on them because they do not have menstrual cycles and are naturally protected from pregnancy. As for informed consent, the whole protocol was approved by the drug controller and trials carried out in reputed institutions. And for those who would still like to see, the records are available with NII."

Talwar says the vaccine offers an "ideal" family planning tool compared to those currently in use. "People often opt for surgery (vasectomy or tubectomy) at a late stage in life after having many children. Again, intra-uterine devices often cause bleeding and that is unhealthy because most women in the country are already on the margin of anaemia. And as for steroid-based contraceptives, they stop a woman from ovulating normally," he points out. According to him, the HCG vaccine's effect can be reversed, it does not harm the normal physiology of a woman and does not demand a day-to-day intake.

However, the very search for a 'magic solution' has its critics. Says Mohan Rao, professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University's Centre for Social Medicine and Community Health and member of the National Population Commission: "There is an urgent need for health and family welfare services as acknowledged by the National Population Policy of 2000. Without meeting this existing need, to think of magic bullets is absurd. What we need is safe, effective, user-friendly and user-controlled contraception and not something which has huge potential for misuse in India's target-driven family planning programme." Clearly, from conception to consensus, the vaccine has some distance to travel.

Outlook, October 29, 2007

Saturday, October 20, 2007

National Family Health Survey - III Released

More than half the women in the country are anaemic and one in three child is underweight.

"Anaemia is disturbingly common among adults. 55 percent of women in India are anaemic and 43 percent of kids below the age of three are underweight," reveals the final report of the National Family Health Survey - III (NFHS-3), released on 11th October.

The 2005-06 National Family Health Survey (NFHS-3) is the third in a series of national surveys; earlier NFHS surveys were carried out in 1992-93 (NFHS-1) and 1998-99 (NFHS-2).

Anaemia among pregnant women during that period has also increased. Even though men are much less likely than women to be anaemic, anaemia levels in men are at around 24 percent," the NFHS survey revealed.

The findings showed that malnutrition continues to be a significant health problem for children and adults in India.

"There has been very marginal change in the percentage of children who are underweight. From 43 percent underweight children in 1998-99 to 40 percent in 2006."

NFHS-3 also found high prevalence of anaemia - 70 percent in children aged 6-59 months. Anaemia is primarily linked to poor nutrition.

"Women and men suffer a dual burden of over nutrition and under nutrition. More than one third of women are too thin, while 13 percent are overweight.

"One-third of men are too thin, and 9 percent are overweight or obese. The states with the largest percentage of overweight women and men are in Punjab, Kerala, and Delhi, especially among the more educated," the survey pointed out.

All three NFHS surveys were conducted under the stewardship of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India, with the International Institute for Population Sciences, Mumbai, serving as the nodal agency. ORC Macro, Calverton, Maryland, USA, provided technical assistance for all three NFHS surveys. NFHS-1 and NFHS-2 were funded by the United States Agency for International Development, with supplemental funding from UNICEF.

NFHS-3 funding was provided by the United States Agency for International Development, the Department for International Development (United Kingdom), the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, UNICEF, the United Nations Population Fund, and the Government of India. Assistance for the HIV component of the NFHS-3 survey was provided by the National AIDS Control Organisation and the National AIDS Research Institute.

In NFHS-3, 18 research organisations conducted interviews with more than 230,000 women age 15-49 and men age 15-54 throughout India. NFHS-3 also tested more than 100,000 women and men for HIV and more than 200,000 adults and young children for anaemia. Fieldwork for NFHS-3 was conducted from December 2005 to August 2006.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Setting a precedent for trafficking hazardous waste

By every rule in the book, this ship, carrying asbestos waste and radioactive elements, should not be in Indian waters, let alone be beached. And yet, despite well-premised objections, the central government persuaded the Supreme Court to rule that Blue Lady be dismantled at Alang.

On 6 September and 11 September, two related judgments in the matter of shipbreaking and hazardous waste were issued by the Supreme Court of India. The Division Bench of Justice Dr Arijit Pasayat and Justice S H Kapadia delivered both the orders. This was the same Bench that was seized with the Le Clemenceau case. The first order is a general order on the issue of ship-breaking. The second order was with specific reference to status of the Blue Lady (formerly SS Norway) -- a ship with known dangers: asbestos and radioactive material, and without clear papers -- currently beached at the Alang shipyard in Gujarat. This order gave a go ahead to dismantling of the Blue Lady.

Dismantling the Blue Lady exposes the mostly Bhojpuri and Oriya speaking causal and migrant workers and the villagers of Bhavnagar panchayats near Alang to toxic exposures. It also threatens their source of livelihood -- fishing due -- to marine pollution. By the government's own admission - a report of technical experts on shipbreaking -- the underground water in Alang is heavily polluted. The ship-breaking industry is already known to have a higher accident rate (2 workers per 1000) than the mining industry (0.34 per 1000). This is considered the worst in the world, and 16 per cent of workers here are suffering asbestos related diseases.

In its order on 11 September, the Honourable Supreme Court advanced "The concept of "balance" under the principle of proportionality applicable in the case of sustainable development…" and ruled that: "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."

The apex court ruled this way even though it also did not dispute that the entry of Blue Lady in Indian territorial waters and its continued presence since June 2006 was itself in violation of court's own order of 14 October 2003. It was also in violation of the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal, and a number of other international environmental and labour conventions and treaties -- that govern the breaking of contaminated ships - to all of which India is a signatory.

In the 11 September order, the honourable justices refer to former the Attorney General of UK saying, "In his Keynote Address, on 'Global Constitutionalism', reported in Stanford Law Review vol. 59 at p. 1155, Lord Goldsmith, Her Majesty's Attorney General (UK), stated that British Constitution though unwritten is based on three principles, namely, rule of law, commitment to fundamental freedoms and principle of proportionality. European Convention on Human Rights ("ECHR") also refers to the concept of balance."

The 21-page keynote address of Lord Goldsmith has this paragraph that has been referred to in the apex court's order. It reads as follows: "The third principle is that of proportionality. One of the key themes of the ECHR is the concept of balance. The Convention took its lead in this respect from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights-and in particular, article 29 which expressly recognises the duties of everyone to the community and the limitation on rights in order to secure and protect respect for the rights of others. Under the Convention some rights are absolute. They are so fundamental that there can be no compromise on them. We take the view that the prohibition on torture is simply nonnegotiable. I regard the right to a fair trial as another of those fundamentals. That is why we have rejected reducing the burden of proof for terrorism offences and allowing secret evidence in terrorism trials."

It is shocking to note that Goldsmith's speech in question does not appear at all to be relevant to the plight of workers, villagers, environment, ship-breaking industry, steel or hazardous wastes management. Therefore, it cannot be a convincing rationale for knowingly letting a most vulnerable workforce and communities suffer from asbestos and radioactive exposure that will arise from breaking up the Blue Lady.

Verified threat of hazardous waste on-board - radioactive elements

The bench granted permission for the dismantling based on the submission by Gopal Subramaniam, the Additional Solicitor General, to the effect that the ship does not have any more radioactive material and beaching is irreversible. But contrary to the recommendations of the Technical Experts Committee on Hazardous Wastes relating to Ship-breaking, Gujarat Pollution Control Board, Gujarat Enviro Protection and Infrastructure Ltd, (GEPIL) and the ship's current owner Priya Blue Shipping Pvt Ltd., the ship does contain radioactive substances at thousands of places.

In the order passed the apex court merely states, "There was also an apprehension rightly expressed by the petitioner regarding radioactive material on board the vessel Blue Lady. Therefore, an immediate inspection of the said vessel beached at Alang since 16.8.2006 was undertaken by Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) and by Gujarat Maritime Board (GMB). The apprehension expressed by the petitioner was right. However, as the matter stands today, AERB and GMB have certified that the said vessel Blue Lady beached in Alang no more contains any radioactive material on board the ship."

What changed?

A perusal of the report of the inspection undertaken on 14 August 2007 shows that the entire inspection of 16 floors of 315 meter long ship seems to have been completed within a period of 4 hours (a commendable task no doubt) and the report states that they could detect only 12 smoke detectors containing Americium 241. Having found these 12 smoke detectors containing radioactive materials, the report concludes that the ship "now, does not contain any radioactive material on board".

In my petition, I had referred to a letter sent by one Tom Haugen (who had been the Project Manager for Engineering, Delivery, Installation, Commissioning and later services and upgrades as regards Fire Detection Installation Systems on-board the Blue Lady). Haugen had written to Meena Gupta, Chairman of the Technical Experts Committee (by virtue of being the Secretary at the Ministry of Environment) that the fire detection system on the Blue Lady contained 5500 detection points which included 1100 ion smoke detectors that use radioactive elements composed of Americium 241. Further, in a separate letter to the Prime Minister dated 19 September 2007, Haugen has reiterated the fact about the enormity of radioactive material on the ship given that he himself supervised its installation.

Countering the AERB-GMB report that that ship did not contain any radioactive material after their inspection, Haugen wrote that in most cases, the fire detection systems are not labeled or indicated in any way, as they are typically 'buried' out of sight. According to Haugen, due to the risk of hazardous radioactive exposure, they should only be handled by professionals or certified technicians. "The system and its detectors are very subtly placed and virtually completely hidden in most parts, so it is totally understandable that a non-expert team might miss it during a broader inspection of the vessel," wrote Haugen.

In fact, even though the Technical Experts Committee had put in its 2006 report that there was no radioactive material on the ship, one of the Committee's members Dr Virendra Misra of the Industrial Toxicology Research Centre, Lucknow, had disagreed with the findings. He wrote that, "Presence of radioactive materials should be ascertained well in advance. Though it is mentioned in the report that radioactive material is not available, in my opinion there is possibility of the presence of radioactive materials due to existence of liquid level indicators and smoke detectors on the ship." This was ignored by TEC's then chairman, Prodipto Ghosh. The final report of the Technical Committee was signed by only Ghosh. All of this is in the records of the apex court.

But Additional Solicitor General Subramaniam persuaded the apex court to rely on the report of the Prodipto Ghosh-led Technical Experts Committee. (Ghosh was Secretary at the Environment Ministry and Chairman of the Committee. He has since retired, and his post has been taken over by Meena Gupta.) This is a report that had submitted that there is no radioactive material on the ship, as noted earlier. But following the submission of Tom Haugen's letter to the apex court and our request to the AERB, the AERB team inspected the ship. As noted earlier, it concluded that there are only 12 equipments that have radioactive material in it. Subramaniam was then compelled to partially admit in the hearing to the presence of radioactive material on Blue Lady. But the fact is that there are still over one thousand such equipments in the ship and Haugen has the diagram showing the locations of the equipment.

Verified threat of hazardous waste on-board – asbestos

On the asbestos present in the ship, the court also heard ingenious arguments advanced by the learned Additional Solicitor General Subramaniam that, "In the present case, the vessel does not contain single kilogram of asbestos and/or ACM as cargo". It had never been the stand of the plaintiff that asbestos or Asbestos Containing Material (ACM) was being sought to be brought in as cargo. Asbestos is already built into the ship's structure.

The question of differentiating between inbuilt material carrying asbestos and asbestos cargo had infact already been addressed by a Parliamentary Committee. The Parliamentary Committee on Petitions, on 17 August 2007, issued its report in response to the matter being raised in Lok Sabha by Basudev Acharya (CPI (M), Bankura, West Bengal). Acharya, a senior parliamentarian, had petitioned the Committee, arguing that Blue Lady's entry violates India's sovereignty. Incidentally, the Environment Ministry did give oral evidence before this Committee, but did not disclose the radioactive content of the ship.

The Parliamentary Committee, chaired by Prabhunath Singh (MP-Janata Dal (United), Maharajganj, Bihar), in its response, noted that it was extremely concerned that the ship contains an estimated 1240 MT of ACM and about 10 MT of PCBs as inbuilt material and as a part of its structure. The committee recognised that asbestos fibers when inhaled or when the PCBs on-board are consumed by human beings, the same may cause cancer unless proper precautions are taken for safe handling of these materials by the workers. The report then got into issue of asbestos in the cargo vs. structure, virtually indicting the government: "The committee strongly deprecate (sic) the repeated stand taken by the ministry that since no hazardous waste have been allowed on boards as cargo, there is no violation of the Hon'ble Supreme Court directions. The Committee need not emphasize that hazardous waste whether as cargo or inbuilt material are equally detrimental to the environment and to the human health."

Earlier Kalraj Mishra (MP-BJP, Lucknow), member of the Parliamentary Committee on Industry, had asserted that the French ship Le Clemenceau was sent back, and the Blue Lady, being 50 times more toxic than the Le Clemenceau, should therefore also be sent back.

It appears that the Supreme Court has accepted that 85 per cent of the asbestos, contained in the form of wall partitions, ceilings and the roofing in rooms and galleries in the ship, did not pose a risk if those parts were removed without damaging them. But no mention seems to have been made as regards the balance 15 per cent of the asbestos contained on the Blue Lady, which in itself would come to 186 metric tonnes. Removal of this asbestos is bound to cause grave risks of asbestosis, mesothelioma, lung cancer and other related illnesses to workers.

In my petition, I brought to the notice of the apex court that asbestos waste is banned in India and asbestos itself is banned in some 45 countries and even the World Trade Organisation had passed a verdict against it because of its carcinogenicity at every level of exposure. There is indisputable evidence that safe and controlled use of asbestos is impossible. Despite this, the Additional Solicitor General Subramaniam argued, "Safe use and controlled use of asbestos is possible in India." He said that asbestos waste in the structure of the ship was not hazardous and asserted that asbestos waste is banned in India but that applies to 'virgin' asbestos waste!

The Hon'ble Supreme Court has not yet dealt with the application filed by Bhagvatsinh Haluba Gohil, Sarpanch, Village Sosiya, Tehsil Talaja, and District Bhanvnagar on behalf of 30, 000 villagers and 12 panchayats of Bhavnagar district of Gujarat. The villages are in the vicinity of Alang ship-breaking yard. They sought directions asking the court to "direct that the ship named "Blue Lady" (SS Norway) be not allowed to be dismantled at the Alang Ship-breaking yard." The villagers have argued that "The dismantling of the ship would have hazardous effect on the residents of the villages near the Alang ship breaking yard as the ship contains large amount of asbestos which, when exposed is hazardous to the health of the residents living in the twelve villages."

In August 2006, an acclaimed scientist, a former Union Minister, Prof M G K Menon, and the Chairman of the Supreme Court's High Power Committee on Hazardous Wastes, had written to the Chief Justice of India and argued that the Blue Lady should be sent back to Malaysia or Germany from where it had come without decontamination.

Faulty argument on a beached ship not being refloatable

There's more. Allen Todd Busch, Vice President and General Manager, Titan Salvage, a Crowley Company, and one of the largest and most respected salvage companies, also wrote to the Prime Minister. He said, "The primary reason the court has ruled in favour of breaking the vessel, in its current position, is because there is a belief that the vessel can not be removed from where it now rests." Busch disagreed with that premise. He wrote that his firm had the capability and expertise to refloat the vessel. "Please allow us to present to the Prime Minister and India's Court our credentials, history and experience that there is actually very high probability that the BLUE LADY is not at all in an "irreversible" position, as the esteemed Court has found," wrote Busch. Also the firm Aaage Anderson, which was involved in the Le Clemenceau case, has said in a technical memo that the Blue Lady can be refloated.

Even as it was becoming clearer that the Blue Lady (SS Norway, SS France) can be sent back, the Additional Solicitor General Subramaniam led the court into believing that since beaching is irreversible, that the Blue Lady cannot be sent back. But the Blue Lady, as noted earlier and in previous articles, is illegal traffic as per all relevant laws. There is documentary proof that such ships are required certification for prior decontamination of the ship in the country of export. In the case of Blue Lady let alone decontaminating the ship as per the court's order, it has till date not even been claimed that it has been decontaminated.

Dangerous precedent for globalisation of waste

The list goes on and on. I had also pointed in my petition before the honourable court that the "Prior Informed Consent" convention -- which has been accepted in the Rio Declaration, Basel Convention, Cartegena Protocol, Rotterdam Convention, and the Stockholm Convention, had also been incorporated in Hazardous Wastes Rules 1989. As per this principle, no member state can send hazardous waste to a developing country without its prior consent. This has not been followed in the case of the Blue Lady. Another important convention -- that has been violated -- is that a ship ought to be decontaminated prior to its export for dismantling, which view has been expressed earlier by the apex court itself.

Dismantling of the Blue Lady would set a dangerous precedent. Hazardous and poisonous material does not become non-hazardous and non-poisonous merely because the government -- the Environment Ministry and Additional Solicitor General -- assert so. The Blue Lady story shows how hazardous industries, substances, wastes are being transferred to India in full public glare due to the connivance of Indian authorities who have compelled the highest court to decide matters on technical and humanitarian grounds (the original permission to beach the ship in 2006 was given on humanitarian grounds owing to inclement weather) rather than on a legal basis.

Even though the toxic ship Le Clemenceau was recalled in early 2006 on a verdict by a French court, the Blue Lady story only exposes the conflicted European position on ship-breaking and asbestos. Germany has condoned the Blue Lady's violation of Basel Convention - the contaminated ship left its shores in 2005 - to stay unreversed. This has in turn allowed the ship owners to successfully escape exorbitant decontamination cost in Europe.

P.S.: The recent news report suggesting that dismantling of Blue Lady has begun is far from the truth. In fact it is an effort by the cash buyers to tell the interested ship owners that things have not come to a standstill at Alang. This is to ensure the flow of obsolete ships at Alang. The ship-breakers have not even claimed that they have decontaminated the ship. It appears to be a planted story. In fact it is an effort by the cash buyers to tell the interested ship owners that things have not come to a standstill at Alang. This is to ensure the flow of obsolete ships at Alang. The reasoning presented before the court was an exercise in sophistry. If sustainable development is the reason then why do judges say “Lastly, we may point out that there is no dispute that on 15/16.8.2006 the vessel beached off Alang coast. It is not in dispute that the process of beaching is irreversible.” (Supreme Court order Para 14, 11.9.2007) Their main but insincere reasoning is that it will give jobs to 700 workers and 41, 000 tonne of steel. The real number is 300 workers. But mere 41, 000 tonne is of not at all of significance since India is the world's largest producer of direct reduced iron (DRI) or sponge iron and is the seventh largest steel producer in the world with an overall production of about 40 mt in 2006 . Three-fold rise in steel production capacity to 120 million tonne is going to make the second-largest steel producer in the world in very near future.

Dismantling plan submitted by Priya Blue Shipping Ltd to the Technical Experts Committee (TEC) is simply a paper work that has failed to inform the court as to what it would do for PCBs, incineration ash, ballast water, radioactive material, Lead and other heavy metals. Given the fact that there are casual and migrant workers, the commitment to protect workers is not at all credible. Safe handling of asbestos is not possible, it requires a Astronaut's dress that is not possible to work in any case even the TEC report has noted that these safety gears are provided to workers only when inspection team visits Alang yards. Riky, the Danish ship has been dismantled and the matter is pending before this very bench but they have decided not to hear the matter so far although it preceded the present ship but showed inexplicable exemplary speed in dealing with Blue Lady. It is quite well known that as long as Gujarat Maritime Board the supervising authority, there would be no safety for the workers and the villagers. As of 15th October, 2007, the 12 village councils (panchayat, a local governance unit) heads were deliberating over ways to protest against the court order. They have scheduled their meeting for 25th October.