The conflicting rules of two Central Government Ministries has created a legal loophole, allowing importers to bring lakhs of tonnes of hazardous waste into India, without facing consequences.
The Environment Ministry’s Hazardous Waste Rules, 2008 prohibits import of waste oil, ash and residues from incineration of municipal solid waste, plastic, and unsorted waste scrap. But the same is allowed under the Open General License of the export-import policy of the Commerce Ministry.
Thanks to the confusion, import of ash and residues from incineration of municipal solid waste has increased by about 130 times between 2006 and 2009 and that of waste plastic jumped by seven times during the same period. Most of the waste came from countries such as Netherlands, Germany and the United Kingdom.
“It is a classic case of one arm of the government not knowing what other is doing,” said Gopal Krishnan of Toxic Watch Alliance, a network of advocacy groups on hazards of allowing toxic waste, whose imports saw a 48 per cent increase between 2006 and 2009.
Environment and Forest Minister Jairam Ramesh has acknowledged the contrary rules allowed illegal import of hazardous wastes into the country. In a letter to Commerce Minister Anand Sharma last week, Ramesh emphasised on the need to align hazardous waste rules and export-import policy to reduce “scope of confusion” at implementation level.
“I suggest that a joint group of the two ministries be set up to resolve the issue,” he said. Ramesh also said that some export-oriented units and those in the Special Economic Zones were importing hazardous waste without seeking approval from either the Ministries. They were also operating without a mandatory “consent to operate” under the Water Act and Air Act — laws aimed at protecting the environment.
“An impression also seems to have gained ground that such units are exempt from the provisions of environment regulations can import hazardous wastes without any permission. These impressions need to be corrected,” Ramesh said. The environment ministry has also sought random checks and strengthening of laboratories.