THE Department of Environment (DoE)'s suing four ship-breaking yards in Chittagong for polluting environment is a clear case of misplaced emphasis, to put it politely. With an amendment to the import order letting toxic ships in without pre-inspection certification either by the supplier or the importer, the litigation is actually an eye-wash and playing to the gallery. As far as a response to the surging genuine concerns over the state of ship-breaking yards goes, it even sounds diversionary. In fact, another ministry of the government, namely, commerce ministry, deciding 'to allow dismantling vessels built with toxic substances', the four breaking yards in question have been sued. What does this work out to?
For, if it is assumed that the environment ministry is asserting its authority over the commerce ministry for not having procured clearance from the former then it sounds untenable because the fundamental safeguard that was there against import of hazardous ships has been done away with.
It is claimed by the government that the import order amendment aims to bolster growth of a promising industry. What growth, what promising industry, may we ask? An industry that has killed 38 persons and crippled many and puts to daily hazard several thousand workers inhaling mercury and having to work with primitive unsafe tools, let alone damaging environment, is but an instrument of exploitation. It is working in conditions in Bangladesh that compare highly negatively with those in which such industries work in China and Turkey.
Thus, the imperatives are clearly before us. The first order of business is to withdraw the amendment to the import order. Secondly, until such time as the management facilities and working conditions of the ship-breaking yards are scientifically acceptable, phase out the existing ones under a time-bound framework. That is to say, prepare the industry with built-in safeguards and then go for it.
Last but not least, go in for alternative arrangements in order to meet the scrap iron needs and provide employment to those rendered jobless. If 195 countries in the world can do without ship-breaking industry which is inherently dangerous, why can't Bangladesh? Above all, it is beneath the dignity of any self-respecting nation to court the image of a dumping ground.