Maharashtra is the biggest producer of electronic waste — electronic products that have been discarded by their original users. It also easily leads in recycling them in the country.
But while most unorganised yards in Maharashtra recycle computers and their accessories, the state routes the more hazardous processes to Delhi. These include the chemical extraction of copper, gold, or even breaking up the cathode-ray tubes used in monitors and TV sets.
A latest study has tried to identify the risks such work involve for the thousands of manual labourers in the Capital. The workers operate in huge unorganised clusters in areas like Seelampur, Mandoli, and Luni, where these processes are a flourishing business, the study says.
Delhi-based NGO International Resources Group did the study for the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board. It examined 15 kinds of processes done on e-waste in the western state.
"Three or four of these are sent to yards in the National Capital Region. In many ways, these processes could be more hazardous than the rest done in Maharashtra," Amit Jain, Director of IRG, told the Hindustan Times.
The IRG report to the Ministry of Environment and Forests estimates the Delhi e-waste recycling business invests nearly 10 lakh man-hours annually.
In the national capital region, "regunning cathode ray tubes, acid-bath for printed wire boards in computers, and extraction of gold from pins and combs in the circuits" is done on the truckloads of e-waste from Maharashtra, says the study. The IRG estimates that Maharashtra generates over 20,000 tons of e-waste every year. "The labourers, all slum dwellers, have no knowledge of the hazards associated with such work," Jain, who did a detailed study on e-waste in Delhi in 2004, said.
Ravi Agarwal, director of NGO Toxics Link, had also examined the Delhi e-waste scenario earlier this year: He said for chemical extraction "they use a mix of nitric and sulphuric acids, which emit poisonous fumes. They also break cathode ray tubes, which emit lead dust that harms the nervous system.”
Both Amit Jain and Ravi Agarwal said the copper business in Moradabad and gold market in Meerut, both close to Delhi, make these processes viable here. "Moreover, the plastic goes to plastic recyclers here," Agarwal said.