'Gujarat authorities violated apex court order banning entry of ship into Indian waters'
The Supreme Court has reserved its judgement on allowing the dismantling of the hazardous ship Exxon Valdez on Indian shores. It will pronounce its verdict on July 30. The bench of justices Altamas Kabir and J Chelameswar heard the arguments for and against allowing the former US ship Exxon Valdez, also known as Oriental Nicety, to beach at the ship-breaking yards of Alang in Gujarat. Earlier this year the same bench had barred the entry of this ship into Indian territorial waters on the ground that it violates the Basel Convention—an international treaty meant to curb transboundary movement of hazardous wastes.
The ship, blamed for the infamous Alaska oil spill of 1989, was to reach Alang on May 9 for ship-breaking. Despite the Supreme Court restriction, the Gujarat Maritime Board (GMB) gave permission to the ship owners to enter Indian waters. On June 30, the ship dropped anchor at Bhavnagar off the coast of Gujarat. Gujarat authorities claimed this was not in violation of the court order as the authorities need to examine the ship to ascertain whether or not it complies with the provisions of the Basel Convention.
Gopal Krishna of Toxics Watch Alliance, a petitioner in the case, filed an application with the court, stating the permission granted by the Gujarat state authorities was a violation of the court order, Basel convention and even the Indian Hazardous Waste (Management and Handling) Rules. He said the Convention’s principle of prior informed consent has also been incorporated in the Indian hazardous waste rules, which was not followed in the case of granting permission to Exxon Valdez.
During arguments, the court asked senior advocate Sanjay Parikh, representing the petitioners, to explain the violations. Parikh submitted that the Basel Convention applies to the end of life ships, destined for ship-breaking and that these ships are floating hazardous waste. Parikh said that as per the Convention, prior informed consent, which is applicable in case of transboundary movement of hazardous wastes, is also applicable to ship-breaking. He explained that ship=breaking involves transboundary movement of the hazardous wastes that are embedded in the ship itself.
Prior inform consent implies the country of export should give all the documents regarding the ship to the country of import and the ship should sail from the country of export only after it has been granted permission by the country of import. The country of import needs to examine all the documents sent by the country of export, including the nature and quantity of hazardous wastes before granting any permission. The Convention emphasises the need for the ability of the country of import to satisfy that the hazardous wastes be disposed in an environmentally sound manner.
Parikh submitted before the court that not only Exxon Valdez but other ships as well enter Indian territorial water without prior informed consent. “This violates the basic principle involved in transboundary movement of hazardous wastes and compromises environmental and safety safeguard,” he said. As far as Exxon Valdez is concerned, neither prior inform consent nor prior decontamination by the country of export was followed, said Parikh. He submitted that even cross checking of inventory of hazardous waste was not done and said that the affidavits filed by Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), Ministry of shipping and GMB showed that they only looked at the hazardous wastes lying in loose form on board.
Parikh contended that the Central Pollution Control Board, GMB, the high powered committee on-ship breaking and MoEF, all have agreed that prior decontamination of the ship by the country of export is required. Citing previous Supreme Court order of 2003, Parikh highlighted the need for prior decontamination of ships based on the Basel convention principle of minimising hazardous wastes by the country of export.
Gopal Krishna adds that despite the long litigation even today it is not known how much asbestos, waste oil, heavy metals and other contaminants the ship contains. “The permission of anchoring is therefore, absolutely illegal and in violation of the directions passed by the apex court,” he said.
At present, the ship is anchored off the coast of Bhavnagar and has been examined by all the state authorities. Before the ship is permitted to reach the Alang ship-breaking yards the court has to decide its fate.
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