Pratap Chakravarty, AFP
New Delhi: Environmentalists, alarmed by surging demand for consumer gadgets in India, are pushing manufacturers to tackle mounting piles of hazardous electronic waste.
India’s 300-million strong middle class is grabbing gadgets as global competition pushes down costs of electronics which a decade ago were beyond the reach of many households.
“We’re raising the red flag,” said Vinuta Gopal, spokeswoman of the Indian chapter of environmental group Greenpeace International.
“India is producing semi-conductors, manufacturing components and the computer sector is seeing a meteoric rise,” she said.
“Most of these products are made with hazardous chemicals... if the industry doesn’t take responsibility and the government doesn’t fulfil its leadership role... then e-waste will blow up on our faces,” she said.
India, which annually spews 146,000 tonnes of e-waste, has no specific legislation but recently widened an eight-year-old anti-pollution law to handle the problem.
“E-waste is regulated under these rules,” junior environment minister N.M. Meena told parliament earlier this month but added that an exercise had also begun to monitor electronic garbage.
“The Central Pollution Control Board has undertaken a study for preparation of a ‘guideline-document’ for the sound recycling of e-waste,” he said.
But environmentalists called for stronger measures.
“Mere guidelines are not enough to tackle e-waste and what we need are clear-cut policies and rules on re-cycling, waste management infrastructure and investment,” said Rajiv Agarwal, director of the Toxics Link environmental forum.
“The government is shying away from taking firm action because it does not want a framework of regulations for the IT industry,” Agarwal told AFP.
Global consultancy firm Frost and Sullivan estimates India’s electronics industry will grow by 30% annually to $2.5 billion (Rs10,185 crore) in 2010.
“The industry in India is buzzing with activity,” said Sathyamurthy Sabarinath, a technology analyst at Frost and Sullivan.
The growth is propelled by burgeoning demand for telecom equipment as well as an astronomical demand for computers in India where 25 million people join the middle class every year.
The computer industry is worth $7 billion with 90% of the production meant for the domestic market, according to official estimates.
Frost and Sullivan warned the industry would need to work out methods to handle e-waste.
India’s Manufacturers’ Association for Information Technology (MAIT) said it was launching a project involving India, the European Union and Switzerland to “help, adapt and facilitate waste processing units” that would take up to five years to complete.
However, the states of Maharashtra and Karnataka, hub of India’s IT industry, have already set up independent processing units to recycle hazardous wastes, said MAIT president Winnie Mehta.
“In Europe it was a consumer-driven movement but the challenge here is that guidelines are required to ensure that what goes inside is not hazardous as well as rules to determine the end of lifespans of products,” Mehta said.
India’s largest cities — Bangalore, Chennai, Kolkata and Delhi — alone generate 29,000 tonnes of e-waste annually, a chunk of which finds its way to smaller towns where it is cannibalised for anything of value, pollution control officials said.
“This secondary market feeds a hazardous recycling industry which is unregulated and impossible to tackle at this stage,” said a senior official at the Central Pollution Control Board, the national pollution watchdog.