New Delhi: The world’s largest ship recycling yard at Alang-Sosiya in Gujarat is set to get an upgrade with a top panel of the Union environment ministry recommending environment clearance for the same.

The ministry’s expert appraisal committee (EAC) wants the yard to meet additional requirements on the environment front for the upgrade which will expand the yard’s capacity by 50%, minutes of the committee’s 21-22 September meeting show. The ministry will now take a call on granting the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) clearance for the Rs1,630 crore project.

“After detailed deliberations, the committee recommended the project for environmental and CRZ clearance," according to the minutes of the meeting reviewed by Mint. The committee also stipulated nearly 20 specific and environmental conditions apart from those laid down by Gujarat Coastal Zone Management Authority.

The EAC wants the Gujarat Maritime Board (GMB) which controls the yard to upgrade existing recycling units in such a way that will help improve the overall sea water quality.

The committee also called for an action plan to ensure zero waste spill, adding the yard must ensure “no creeks or rivers are blocked due to any activities at the project site and free flow of water is maintained".

Alang-Sosiya is infamous for poor environmental and workers’ conditions. Stretching over 10km of coastline, it is located about 50km from south of Bhavnagar in Gujarat’s Saurashtra region. Operating since 1983, there are 167 ship recycling plots at this yard, which are leased out to private entrepreneurs for recycling activity. Till now, over 5,500 vessels including warships, tankers and oil rigs have been scrapped at this yard.

After the upgrade, the yard will be able to recycle 600 ships a year, up from 400 now. At present, around four million tonnes per year of material is recovered from recycling, which includes over 99% of steel; after expansion, it is expected to touch 5.5 million tonnes. The project also aims to improve the yard’s environmental performance, safety and workers’ amenities.

The project will also spruce up the recycling plots, construct two dry docks for pre-cleaning of hazardous material, build 15 recycling plots, and construct a waste oil treatment facility and an incinerator. It also envisages a sharp improvement in labour welfare infrastructure.

GMB hopes these measures will attract “ship-owners, especially those from western Europe, Japan and North America" to send their ships to Alang-Sosiya for recycling. These countries at present do not send their ships here because of respective national regulations that require strict environmental, safety and labour safeguards at such recycling units.

Improper handling of asbestos, which is known to cause cancer, has been one of the main problems at Alang. To address that, EAC stipulated that, “safety and health requirements relating to occupational exposure to asbestos, while ship breaking shall be in compliance with IS11456-1986 and subsequent amendments" and that it should be ensured that, “workers are not exposed to airborne asbestos concentrations in excess of prescribed Permissible Exposure Limits".