In an exercise spread over a year,the Mumbai Customs cleared hazardous and unclaimed goods,some older than a decade,from its warehouses in the city. Separately,the Mumbai Port Trust (MbPt),too,cleared 70.184 tonnes of unclaimed hazardous goods from its port premises.
The two agencies were pulled up after a chlorine leak in 2010 pointed to gross negligence and non-maintenance of safe environs for hazardous cargo.
The clean-up drive was initiated following the July 14,2010,incident at the Haji Bunder hazardous cargo warehouse of the MbPt in Sewri,where a gas leak from a corroded chlorine gas cylinder weighing 650 kg affected over 135 people in the neighbourhood,including security personnel,students,labourers,port workers and fire-fighters.
A complaint was registered,probe ordered and four senior MbPt officials were held accountable following a three-member committee probe,with the shipping ministry revising a list of recommendations to major ports on handling hazardous material.
The cylinders had been abandoned by an importer in 1997 and the port had since then struggled to auction them off.
The committee,comprising Ministry of Shipping Joint Secretary Rakesh Srivastava,Joint Secretary (administration) of the National Disaster Management Authority Sujata Saunik and Deputy Director of the Ministry of Environment and Forests Sundar Ramanathan,in its recommendations asked the government agencies to bear the cost of destruction of such cargo rather than wait for an auction if it extends the deadline and poses a threat.
It also recommended that the importers choice of refusing to take delivery of imported cargo should be repealed.
The ports in future will have the authority to ask the ship agent to re-ship the cargo back to the origin country if its not cleared within a week.
The Customs soon started a probe in its warehouses in October 2010,checking records and looking for unclaimed hazardous cargo. The first such consignment,which was marked for destruction,was bunches of cartridges stored at the strong room in the Haji Bunder warehouse.
Over the years,cartridges that people imported for personal reasons were collected in this place. They had not been claimed,some just left behind after they were found being smuggled into the country by individuals for personal safety. They had to be destroyed. Some of them were showing signs of corrosion, said a senior Customs official.
A full trail of paper work was initiated,with officials meeting many experts and police officers,including the Crime Branch,to learn ways of destroying cartridges.
Finally at a cost of Rs 15,000 to the government,62,995 cartridges were ferried with utmost security to the Indian Ordnance Factory in Khadki,Pune,where they were destroyed scientifically in January 2011.
With the chlorine leak as a reminder,the agency also searched for all chemicals and pharmaceutical waste.
A low sulphur,heavy stock petroleum product-waste oil was recycled and e-auctioned,which fetched the agency Rs 22,00,000. Over 60 lots of expired medicines,seized Analgin and other pharmaceutical waste weighing 77,740 kg were destroyed by incineration at the Mumbai Waste Management Limited,Taloja.
Except in one case,the importer paid Rs 29,649 for the cost of destruction,with the Customs incurring the destruction charge of over Rs 5 lakh for the rest of the waste.
Meanwhile,during the same period the Mumbai Port Trust cleared 77 lots of unclaimed hazardous goods,including various chemicals,wood coating material etc weighing 70.184 tonnes,at Taloja. The port incurred a cost of Rs 22,45,888 for the entire exercise.