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Issue 36
May , 2012
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Finally, a law to govern e-waste

Nandini Thilak
Source: The Indian Express, Date: April , 2012

At Old Seelampur, an impoverished neighbourhood in Northeast Delhi, rows of hollowed-out computer monitors line a dingy lane. On another street here, room after room on either side is piled high with dusty keyboards and metallic innards of computers and other electronic goods.

Welcome to the wasteland of India's urban refuse. Here, heaps of electronic waste - or e-waste as it is more commonly referred to - wait to be dismantled and recycled for anything of value.

E-waste has spawned a large informal sector in cities engaged in its refurbishing, dismantling and recycling. Gali No 4 in Old Silampur is one such hub where workers, including children, labour in hazardous conditions to dismantle discarded electronic goods.

Spelling the end of unauthorised units handling such refuse, the E-waste (Management and Handling) Rules 2010 - drafted by the the Ministry of Environment and Forests to address the e-waste problem and to regularise the informal sector, which was notified last year - will come into effect across the country, including the Capital, on May 1, 2012.

All agencies that handle e-waste on a commercial scale - collection centres, refurbishers, dismantlers - must apply for licenses within three months of the rules coming into effect and comply with pollution standards and labour laws.

As per conservative estimates, which exclude e-waste imported from developed countries, India's e-waste burden is expected to touch 8 lakh tonnes a year in 2012. The rules are expected to bring relief to workers engaged in handling e-waste, which is an extremely hazardous process.

The new rules, which come under the ambit of the Environment Protection Act of 1986, apply to all citizens. Ordinary users as well as large-scale handlers of e-waste risk prosecution if they do not follow norms on disposal.

Under the Act, a fine of up to Rs 1 lakh and imprisonment of up to seven years can be awarded to violators. State Pollution Control Boards (PCBs) or Control Committees have been entrusted the task of enforcing the rules.

The rules seek to enforce 'Extended Producer Responsibility', making manufacturers of electronics responsible for the collection of e-waste and proper channelisation through take-back mechanisms like collection centres in their stores. It also makes them responsible for making records of e-waste handled in such centres and appraise the respective PCBs of the same. It also states that companies must strive to reduce the toxic-content of their products.

The rules also assign responsibilities to consumers - both bulk and small-scale - who must "ensure that e-waste is deposited with the distributor or at authorised collection centres."

Companies who open collection centres are required under the rules to obtain an authorisation from the PCBs. Along with collection centres, the people involved in the hazardous handling of the waste - dismantlers, refurbishers and recyclers - are also required to get licenses from the state PCBs or risk prosecution.

NGOs working in the field hope that the rules will serve as the first step towards addressing the threats of pollution and resultant health hazards posed by unscientific disposal of e-waste.

"Government estimates say India's e-waste generation will be about 8 lakh tonnes in 2012. The figure is probably much higher. The rules are a result of tremendous pressure on the government to address the issue.... It is an attempt to formalise the large sector dealing with the waste," said Priti Mahesh of Toxics Link, an environmental NGO.

FORMALISING THE SECTOR

Formalisation, however, means that thousands of kabadiwalas, who form the base of the e-waste chain, will need to be integrated into the new set up. The rules allow such workers to be organised into companies and open licensed collection centres, which will feed licensed dismantling and recycling units.

Units that recycle plastic and metal present in e-waste are considered to be absent within the city limits in Delhi. "The Master Plan allows no such activity within city limits. Around four to five recycling centres function in the NCR region," said Dr Sandeep Misra, Member Secretary, Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC).

COLLECTION CENTRES

NGOs are making attempts to integrate kabadiwalas into the formal sector. A group of waste-pickers organised and trained by Chintan, an environmental NGO, have obtained license to open a collection centre. So has Harit Recyclers Association (HRA), a collective of waste pickers. These are the only two collection centres which have obtained licenses so far.

"Informal workers are unaware of the health hazards posed by e-waste. We are training them," said Supriya Bhardwaj of Chintan.
Shashi Bhushan Pundit of HRA said integrating ordinary waste pickers would be a challenge.

"Around 25,000 people work as waste pickers in Delhi. At HRA, we have formed a company of seven workers to open a licensed collection centre with many more as stakeholders. The government should take steps to organise waste collectors and train them in the scientific handling of e-waste. I also think that refurbishers need more recognition. They are important in a country like India where many can't afford new computers," Pandit said.

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