How The Recent NGT Verdict Is Going To Facilitate Sustainable Ship Recycling In India
National Green Tribunal (NGT) has approved the ‘Beaching’ method of ship recycling in the world’s largest ship recycling cluster, at Alang, India, on Friday, 27th November 2020. A specialized body established under the Government of India’s NGT Act 2010, the National Green Tribunal is equipped with the necessary expertise to handle environmental disputes involving multi-disciplinary issues.
Mumbai-based NGO Conservation Action Trust had filed Public Interest Litigation (PIL), challenging the ‘beaching’ method claiming it to be hazardous for the environment and the workers. The PIL filed in January 2017 also challenged the Alang upgradation and expansion project executed by Gujrat Maritime Board (GMB) to recycle ships in a safe and environmentally sound way. Alang beach has a very high tide range (average 13 m) in the world and gentle sloping of 10 degrees as well as a firm and hard rocky bottom. This makes Alang an ideal location for ship recycling. The beaching is achieved using natural parameters as the ship can beach on its power during high tide without any external source of energy to pull.
In its final order, the NGT has directed the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) to establish a five-member committee to improve the environment, health, and welfare of the workers within a month. The committee should include experts from the Institute of Occupational Health, Ministry of Health and Ministry of Labour. The committee must prepare a report on improving the environment, health and welfare of the workers at Alang within six months. The order recommended that upgradation of recycling yards is essential and there should be periodic monitoring of coastal ecology every year. Regular monitoring of marine diversity and bioaccumulation of metals in the marine organisms of Alang should be done. Any adverse impact on the coastal ecology, including subtidal and intertidal zone, should be brought to the concerned authority’s notice to take appropriate future care measures.
NGT observed that the Alang Upgradation project would not impact the ecology much, and it has directed MoEF&CC committee to monitor compliance on the beaching method and compliance for Coastal Regulatory Zones (CRZ) Regulations at least twice a year.
The Alang Upgradation Project consists of upgradation of a total of 167 plots in two phases, constructing two floating drydocks for pre-cleaning of ships before beaching, and allocating additional 15 numbers (100 m x 90 M) of recycling plots. The project includes the upgradation of a waste oil treatment unit and incinerator at the existing Treatment Storage and Disposal Facility (TSDF) site at Alang. It’s worth mentioning that the GMB, in association with the Ship Recycling Industries Association (SRIA), has developed a 1000 capacity dormitory for workers and has been operational since 2018.
The audit of the National Institute of Oceanography (NIO) confirmed that there is no severe impact on the environment due to beaching methods employed for recycling of ships. The water quality, sediment quality, biological characteristics, pH, dissolved oxygen (DO), and Biochemical Oxygen Demand (BOD) are almost in agreement with water quality standards suggesting a healthy coastal environment. Additionally, the audit observed that the impact of ship recycling activities on phosphates’ concentration is not visible. In short, the ecology of the coastal water of Alang is seen similar to that of surrounding areas of Bhavnagar & Dahej, and it compares well with earlier studies of 2007-08 in Alang area.
The NIO has recommended ship recyclers to avoid the spillage of petroleum products and hazardous wastes and strictly follow the norms of the Gujrat Pollution Control Board (GPCB).
The order also mentions that the yards at the Alang to be upgraded to curtail pollution and enhance security. The Gujrat Maritime Board (GMB) must see the ship recycling operations should remain safe and environmentally sound. The entire operations to be looked after by the environmental supervisors of the GMB.
It is worth noting the Government of India ratified the Hong Kong International Convention for Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships, widely known as the Hong Kong Convention (HKC), in December 2019. The Government has appointed the Directorate General of Shipping as a national regulatory authority for overseeing the ship recycling activities in India.
Ship recyclers in India have voluntarily complied with HKC requirements. At present, 89 ship recycling yards have received HKC statements of compliance from Classification Societies, who are the members of the International Association of Classification Societies (ClassNK, LR, RINA, and IRS). The European Union auditors have audited at least five yards.
The ship recycling industry started in 1982 at Alang, and until February 2020 total of 8062 vessels of various types and capacities were recycled at Alang, amounting to 6,354,792 MT of LDT. It is the industry that provides resources in terms of steel and provides employment to the workers. The workers are getting opportunities to use their skills and capability. The high degree of material recovery from ship recycling emphasizes the strong potential of a circular economy.
The workers in the shipyards are given adequate safety training to work safely, considering occupational hazards. GMB has its training institute which provides compulsory training of two weeks to the new workers joining at Alang.
Recycling facility owners and workers have welcomed the decision of NGT. Ship recycling in India is one of the best examples of a circular economy. The ships are recycled in a sustainable way considering the impact on the environment. It facilitates direct employment of more than 20,000 workers and indirect employment of around 200,000 workers throughout the year. Even in the challenging times of Covid-19, the recycling facilities at Alang managed to keep workers employed. The NGT order will further improve the welfare of the yard workers and the environment.
The order will undoubtedly instill the confidence in the global ship owners and other stakeholders that their ships and offshore assets are recycled in a sustainable way in Indian recycling facilities.
We believe with this move, the Indian Government is determined to make Alang one of the best sustainable recycling locations in the world, complying with all applicable national and international regulations.