The Supreme Court on Friday directed the central government to ban import of all hazardous/toxic wastes identified and declared to be so under the BASEL Convention.
India is a signatory to the BASEL Convention, 1989 that prohibits the import of certain hazardous substances on which there is a total ban. It also imposes certain obligations on the party states to take positive measures to minimise consequences of hazardous wastes for human health and environment.
A bench headed by justice Altmas Kabir made it clear that according to the apex court’s October 13, 1997 and October 14, 2003 orders, ship-breaking operations could not be allowed to continue without strictly adhering to precautionary principles, Central Pollution Control Board guidelines and without taking proper safeguards.The verdict has implications for India’s ship-breaking industry, which has been feeding on foreign ships carrying hazardous waste, often in utter disregard to environmental and public health safety norms.
Acting on a public interest litigation filed by environmentalist Vandana Shiva-led Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Natural Resource Policy, the bench directed the government to bring the Hazardous Wastes (Management & Handling) Rules, 1989, in line with the BASEL Convention.
The bench also asked the government to amend the rules so as to bring them in harmony with Articles 21 (right to life), 47 (Duty of the State to raise the level of nutrition and the standard of living and to improve public health) and 48A (Protection and improvement of environment and safeguarding of forests and wild life) of the Constitution.
In its petition filed in 1995, the Foundation had sought direction to the centre to ban all imports of all hazardous/toxic wastes and amend of rules in conformity with the BASEL Convention and provisions of India’s constitution.
It had contended that in the absence of adequate protection to the workers and public and without any provision of sound environment management of disposal of hazardous/toxic wastes, the Hazardous Wastes (Management & Handling) Rules, 1989 were unconstitutional as they violated citizens’ fundamental rights.
But the bench did not declare the Rules unconstitutional. Instead, it directed the government to amend the rules keeping in view the BASEL Contention and constitutional provisions.
“India is a signatory, both to the BASEL Convention as also the MARPOL Convention, and is, therefore, under an obligation to ensure that the same are duly implemented in relation to import of hazardous wastes into the country,” the bench said.
Under the MARPOL Convention the signatory countries are under an obligation to accept the discharge of oil wastes from ships in order to prevent pollution of the seas.