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Red flag flies in toxic battleship face

Mumbai, Jan. 6: A Supreme Court committee today barred a French battleship packed with toxic waste from entering India till it decides in the next two weeks whether to allow the vessel into the country for ship-breaking.

Aircraft carrier Clemenceau, carrying more than the admissible amount of hazardous asbestos, is headed towards Gujarat’s Alang shipyard where it is to be dismantled and sold as scrap.

“In the light of additional information from media and other sources, there is not a happy picture to welcome the ship in India because a ship of that size and displacement would destroy soil,” said G. Thyagrajan, chairman, Supreme Court monitoring committee on hazardous waste.

But environmentalists led by Greenpeace said they were not happy with the decision.

“The Supreme Court committee had an opportunity today to send out a strong message to the developed world that India is not a dumping ground. It could have taken a decision on the basis of the huge evidence at its disposal,” said Ramapati Kumar, lead campaigner for Greenpeace India.

“But, instead, it chose to wriggle out by delaying the decision. It has now put the onus of the decision on the French apex court, which is expected to take a decision in the next two-three days.”

Environmental activists, including those from Greenpeace India and Ban Asbestos Forum, are protesting that India is seen as a convenient dumping ground thanks to weak laws on hazardous waste. They have filed a case in France’s Supreme Court to get the Clemenceau recalled.

“The ship is currently somewhere near Malta. Our worry is, if a decision is not taken fast, Clemenceau would be near Indian waters in a few days and then economic considerations, such as the cost of towing it away, may come in the way. And the government may just decide to accept it at Alang. That would be disastrous,” said activist Shailandra Yashwant.

The Basel Convention (India and France are signatories) bans trade in toxic and hazardous material by countries.

“As we see it, India is abetting France in violating Basel norms,” said an angry Kumar.

At the end of a long meeting in Mumbai today, the apex court committee said: “If India allows Clemenceau, it will be a violation of the Basel Convention.”

But it left the door for the French vessel half open by saying India would need a guarantee equal to the cost of Clemenceau to help it get remuneration for the Basel violation.

“This is unacceptable. We are talking about bartering human health,” Yashwant said.

The apex court committee’s decision came today after it heard a crucial deposition by a French engineering company, Technopure, which holds the French government contract to detoxify Clemenceau.

“As of now, the estimate of asbestos on Clemenceau varies. The picture is not clear. The information' does not give encouraging picture. The vessel does not seem to conform to Basel norms,” Thyagrajan said.

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