The Third World's burden

Toxic Le Clemenceau dumped on India is just another instance of the West's double standards

By S Faizi
Published: Tuesday 28 February 2006

The Third World's burden

-- The French are truly living up to the methods of their hymned revolution by trying to force their lethal waste, Le Clemenceau , on India rather than treat the dead ship on their own territory. The French revolutionaries of 1789 perpetrated the Reign of Terror, amongst the most reckless massacres ever committed; their descendants today foist toxic terror upon us.

The current situation evokes the dichotomy of values that underlay the French Revolution in more ways than one. Though the revolutionaries waxed eloquent on liberty and equality, the French did not have any qualms in massacring thousands of anti-imperialists in Africa and the Caribbean in the years that followed. The toxic Clemenceau sailing for Indian shores is another instance of such double standards.

It's not just the French. The West has consistently displaced such double standards. While their governments lecture their counterparts in the South, accompanied very often with the threat of bombs, on respecting international laws, they continue to consign several international laws to the bin. Among these is decision ii /12 of the Conference of Parties to the Basel Convention on the Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal. This 1994 decision bans the export of toxic waste by countries of the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (a group of industrialised nations) to developing countries.

A dead war ship like Le Clemenceau is obviously a hazardous waste. The highest court in France does not think so and prefers to call it a "material of war". But such facetious arguments are clearly preempted by decision vii/26 of the Basel Convention's Conference of Parties. Moreover, if 27,000 tonnes of waste, including 1,000 tonnes of cancer causing asbestos is not hazardous, then what is? It did not occur to the French court to ask why the 'material of war' could not be disposed off within France, with all the technological marvel the country possesses. I would, however, congratulate the French embassy in India for honestly describing Le Clemenceau as a "former ship".

India's Supreme Court (sc) did make a case for Southern pride. It asked "When the French government had not permitted the ship to be broken there, why should we allow the ship to come to India?" But the Union ministry of environment and forests has betrayed us by giving a clean chit to Le Clemenceau .

The French government has lied about the quantity of the carcinogenic asbestos -- banned in France -- contained in the decommissioned vessel. It claimed that Clemenceau had only 160 tonnes of asbestos. But Technopure, the company contracted to undertake the de-commissioning, has, in a rare display of honesty, disclosed that the ship's asbestos content is between 500-1,000 tonnes. Violation of the Basel Convention is a criminal offense and should this occur on India's waters, criminal proceedings should be initiated against those responsible.

In addition to asbestos, the French scrap also contains significant quantities of lead and polychlorinated biphenyls. The latter is designated a persistent organic pollutant by the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants and its transport requires the prior informed consent of concerned countries. So, the French government's act violates the Stockholm Convention, and also contravenes the Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade.

I wasn't entirely surprised to see the Egyptian Environmental Agency caving in after asking the ship's agents to produce relevant permits from the national focal points for Basel Convention in India and France. However, like the sc's intervention, the Egyptian Parliament has asked not to allow Clemenceau passage for the waste through the Suez, until the issue is discussed in the house.

Introducing Frantz Fanon's classic narrative of the French massacres in Algeria, Jean Paul Sartre told the West, "the ThirdWorld sees us through the scars of their wounds". This great French philospher was incorrect, for our wounds have not been healed to have scars.

S Faizi is an ecologist based in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala

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