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 and manufacturing components. The computer sector is seeing a meteoric rise,” she added.
“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... e-waste will blow up in our faces,” she said.
India, which annually spews 1.46 lakh 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,” minister of state for environment, 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 (CPCB) 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. What we need are clear-cut policies and rules on recycling, 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.”
Global consultancy firm Frost and Sullivan estimates India’s electronics industry will grow by 30% annually to Rs10,250 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 a 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 (Rs28,700 crore) with 90% of production meant for the domestic market, according to officialestimates.
Frost and Sullivan warned the industry would need to work out methods to handle e-waste.
The 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, Maharashtra and Karnataka have already set up independent processing units to recycle hazardous waste, said Mait president Winnie Mehta.
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 cannibalized 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 CPCB, the national pollution watchdog.