As if the country’s own pile of untreated hazardous electronic waste was not enough, the government has quietly cleared decks to make India a dumpyard for developed countries. All in the name of recycling.
The Ministry of Environment and Forests has allowed a private recycling company to import a huge amount of e-waste from the US and the UK.
The company is allowed to import yearly 8,000 metric tones of e-waste—more than half of entire Delhi's yearly e-waste generation.
Sensing the government's mood, around 15 other 'formal' recyclers of e-waste, too, are seeking similar permission—to open the floodgates of the West's e-waste into the country.
Environmental experts are livid at this development. A few NGOs have written to Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh for intervention.
“This is a terrible blunder," said Ravi Aggarwal of Delhi-based NGO Toxics Link. "Instead of recycling its own e-waste, India wants to clean for other countries. Actually, the waste contains precious materials like gold, copper and palladium, which are cherry-picked while hazardous components are dumped.”
A committee of technical experts has given the green signal, explained a Joint Secretary concerned with e-waste.
"Although allowing import of e-waste is not the norm, we have done this for the first time on an experimental basis," he said. "We will also bring out regulations for better collection of domestic e-waste."
Attero, the company, which has been granted the clearance, says it would prioritise domestic e-waste but needs a constant flow waste to stay afloat.
"In India, we are yet to set up a proper system to collect the huge amount of e-waste generated every year. It's to the tune of 3.5 lakh metric tonnes," said Rohan Gupta, Chief Operative Officer, Attero Pvt Ltd.
Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore are hubs of illegal, unorganised recyling.
When monitors are broken, they emit dust of toxic metal lead present in the tubes; mix of nitric and sulphuric acids to melt circuit boards and copper wires releases poisonous fumes and; burning of materials made of polyvinyl chloride emit cancer-causing fumes called dioxin.