India lags behind in e-waste management

DQW Bureau
New Update


India should follow the EU steps in handling e-waste

WEEE concerns us. Sorry this is not a typographic error, but could turn out

to be one of the most dangerous mista-kes if we as a nation fail to add-ress the

same immediately. Well, we are talking about "wa-ste electrical and

electronic equipment (WEEE)," or e-was-te in short, as defined by the

Directive 2002/96/EC of the European Parliament and the Council of European

Union, the whistle for which was blown in India by the NGO Toxics Link in 2003.

Interestingly, while the EU was signing the WEEE Direc-tives in Brussels on

27 January 2003, India was just waking up to "e-waste" as a new word.

Since there were no estimates of actual amount of e-waste in India, there was no

methodo-logy for baseline estimates and therefore no intervention by regulatory



Fast forward to 4 June 2005-a day before the World Environment Day-and

dele-gates from Ministry of Environ-ment & Forest (MoEF) led its Special

Secretary Meena Gupta, Central Pollution Con-trol Board (CPCB) led by Chair-man

Dr V Rajagopalan, NGOs and recycling units were deliberating on how to handle

the problem at a seminar on e-waste management organi-zed by the Ministry in

collabo-ration with GTZ-ASEM.

Achievement Ahoy?

The seminar ended with the decision to set up a Task For-ce-see box for

the six reco-mmendations-that would chalk out a time bound action plan.

Interestingly, however, until 14:30 hrs, the time when discussion on the

possible solutions was slotted, the speakers continued to drive home the point

that amazing work was being done by various NGOs through their studies, the

Bangalore pilot project under CPCB and Max Mueller Bhawan. The delega-tes were

also informed that a pilot implementation project in Bangalore, the first formal

sector recycling unit in India has been set up and would be in operation by in

the next two months-all this with the help of a German agency for technical

cooperation and a Swiss laboratory for material testing and research.

Besides, one of the senior-most CPCB officials also informed that the MoEF

was preparing a draft manual on assessing e-waste.


Are we on track?

According to experts, the classification of e-waste as hazardous in Indian

legislation is unclear. While its status, acc-ording to Toxics Link analysis,

depends upon the extent of presence of hazardous constit-uents in it, the

country does not have specific laws or guide-lines for e-waste handling. Then,

we have the DGFT or Exim Policy 2002-07 that bans import of second hand PCs,

laptops, photocopiers and air conditioners.

Interestingly, however, the biggest sources of PC scraps in India are

imports. Several reports suggests that more than 70 percent of electronic waste

collected in the recyc-ling units of Delhi was actually exported or dumped by

deve-loped countries such as the US. In India, this waste is subjected to

primitive and highly pollu-ting recycling operations that contaminate air, water

and impacts the health of workers.

Strangely enough, officials from CPCB, Customs and the Port Authorities, deny

dump-ing of e-waste in India by developed countries. An NGO also brought to

light the fact that about 30 metric tonne (MT) of e-waste, consisting monitors

and printers, was imported and landed at Ahme-dabad port in a month during 2003.

Its claims were substan-tiated in December 2004 when the British Environment

Agency (BEA) indicated that there are several companies exporting e-waste from

the UK to India, Pakistan, and China.


Lack of law?

While it's true that India does not have a clearly defined framework or

specific law like the EU's WEEE Directive for handling of e-waste in the

country, the country has also not been strictly following the Bassel Convention-an

inter-national treaty under the auspices of the United Nations Environment

Programme-of which it is a signatory. The severity of the problem can be also

be judged by the lack of awareness or collusion of the respective bodies and

minis-tries-a case in point are the two recent developments at the western

Indian Coast of Alang, Gujarat.

In the first case, India allowed the 51-year old Danish ferry ship to get

beached on April 23, 2005 for dismantling by Jupiter Ship Management at Alang.

All this despite the formal letter by Denmark's minister for environment

Connie Hedegaard's (No J-3034-0036 dated April 15, 2005) to the Indian

minister of Environment & Forest A Raja, requesting to "deny the ship

to be dismantled in India and refer the ship to be returned to Denmark in order

to be stripped of hazardous waste."

According to the Bassel Non-Compliance Report #1 prepared and released by the

Bassel Action Network on April 29, 2005, diplomacy alone should have ensured

that Raja complied with the Danish request, though Hedegaard's request as

exporting state, under the Bassel Convention, made it legally incumbent on India

to do so. Strangely enough, the Indian Ministry chose to ignore the same.


The way forward

One of the simplest ways of reducing e-waste, experts sug-gest, is to

increase the life span of electronics and IT products by reusing the products in

parts or fully. While India is pushing forward to increasing PC penetration in

the country and the IT minister is talking about low cost PCs, a good idea would

be to create a chan-nel whereby corporates can donate their two-to-three-year

PCs to schools and other institutions. However, there is a need to create a

foolproof system that ensures that these boxes reach the right places and do not

land up with the scavengers extracting precious metal. Besides, companies can

also look at the refurbished market, drawing inspiration from Maruti's

TrueValue exper-ience of creating a successful second-hand product sales

channel, complete with fin-ance schemes.

It's also important that instead of creating innumer-ous task forces aimed

at rein-venting the wheel, the MoEF and enforcement agencies recognize the root

cause of the problem and make sure that the Bassel Convention and DGFT

guidelines are followed, to begin with. While studies reveal that most of the

e-waste recycling happens in the informal sector, it's strange that many of

these so called "informal" sector players operate from industrial

areas, one such area being Mandoli in the East Delhi district. It goes without

saying that such facilities are run in collusion with the local authorities.

Besides, we do not need to reinvent the whole wheel. Instead, we have the

exhaus-tive WEEE Directive that deals with the issue threadbare, right from

defining what constitutes as waste electrical and electronic equipment to reuse,

recycling, recovery, treatment and disposal that can be adapted based on In-dia's

socio-legal environment.


The directive clearly says: "member states shall encour-age the design

and production of electrical and electronic equipment which takes into account

and facilitates disman-tling and recovery, in particular the reuse and recycling

of WEEE, their components and materials." Similarly, Article 5 of the draft

on Separate Collec-tion provides guidance on a proper system for "take-back

scheme." The Directive also addresses issues like treat-ment of e-waste,

recovery for reuse, financing for recycling, information for users, besides

technical requirement of sites for storage and treatment. The philosophy is

simple: environ-ment is an asset that cannot be recreated and hence

envi-ronmental damages should, as a priority, be rectified at the so-urce and

the cost of which sho-uld be borne by the polluter.

Shubhendu Parth