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.
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
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.