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Issue 1
, 2006
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City of Joy's emergence as destination for e-waste!

Priti Mahesh
Source: Toxics Link, Date: , 2006

A woman using her bare hands to break computer partsElectronic waste generation is on the rise across the country with the metros emerging as the centres for trade and recycling of this new age trash. A trip to Kolkata recently revealed that like Delhi and Mumbai, e-waste recycling is emerging as a highly profitable pursuit for the traders here as well.

The technological boom has happened in Kolkata after it had already peaked in Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Chennai. But computerisation has now fully invaded this City of Joy and so has the menace of e-waste. Government offices, banks, multinationals, private companies are emerging as the main source for this trash and the household contribution to e-waste stream remains minimal, as Kolkatans believe in using a product till the very end of its life.

Most of the big companies, public and private, are disposing their waste through official tenders in newspapers. Some of them have though, in recent years, embraced the exchange policy wherein they return the old computers and get some discount on the new purchase. And in some cases, where the e-waste generation is small, the companies just sell it to the local ‘kabaddiwala’.

A visit to the by lanes of Chandni Chowk, a busy commercial area in the very heart of the city, throws light on this. This stretch has all but lost its entire footpath to hawkers. The encroacher sell a variety of items here, including second hand electronic goods, like television, computers, music systems, mobile phones etc. If you are interested in assembling a computer of your own- this is probably the best place to visit, as you will find all the necessary components at much cheaper price than the market price. For instance, one can get a DVD writer in 180-200 Indian rupees. Many lab technicians, professors, hardware repair personnel also visit these areas for their requirement. The road has a number of repair shops that use some of the components available here.

In these streets, one can see people dismanteling parts of computers to get the material that fetch money and the rest is thrown away in the nearby dustbin or simply dumped on the roadside. The illiterate hawkers and labourers who work here know about 286s, 386s and 486s versions being obsolete and break these using rudimentary methods completely oblivious of the ill effects of handling e-waste.

Many recycling plants are also mushrooming in the different parts of the city. Though the trade is rampant, no one wants to admit being a part of this. Rajabazar, Kankurgachi, Phoolbagan are some of the areas where the unauthorised recycling takes place. The waste, which is, recycled in Kolkata and the adjoining areas of Howrah are not just waste generated in the city but there is also a substantial amount that comes from other parts.

The usable parts are sold to the local traders and rest are dealt as scrap. The recycling units in Kolkata mainly extract valuable metals like gold, platinum, copper and sell them to the smelting plants. The remaining plastic and glass is sold further for extraction and recycling. A part of this e-waste also ends up in Delhi, which is hub of recycling activities. Printed wire boards are normally bought by Delhi traders and taken to places like Shahadra for further processing.

According to a source, lot of PVC wire burning for copper extraction happens in these areas and also near the Ganges. Those involved in this work are aware of its harmful impact and thus burning takes place mostly in the evenings.

Though the state pollution board recognises this problem, yet there is hardly any action taken to stop it. According to an officer in the board, they have heard about the recycling units, but they have failed in locating these.

Can this claim be taken seriously when such units are mushroming in the very heart of the city?