New Delhi: The Minamata Convention, a global treaty to protect human health and the environment from adverse effects of mercury, took effect on Wednesday, but India has missed the bus for now. Although India is a signatory to the convention, it is yet to ratify it and that would close the doors for any technological and financial assistance for now.
The first Conference of the Parties (CoP) under the Minamata Convention is scheduled to take place in Geneva, Switzerland next month (24-29 September).
In October 2013, at a conference in Kumamoto (Japan), the convention was formally adopted. It was a global, legally binding treaty.
Mercury is considered by experts to be one of the most toxic metals known. Once released into environment, mercury bio-accumulates and bio-magnifies up in the food chain, and easily enters the human body and impacts the nervous system. The treaty aims at protecting human health and the environment from its adverse effects.
The major highlights of the Convention include a ban on new mercury mines, the phase-out of existing ones, the phase-out and phase-down of mercury use in a number of products and processes. It also addresses interim storage of mercury and its disposal once it becomes waste, and sites contaminated by mercury as well as health issues.
Till now, the Convention has 74 ratifications and 128 signatories including India, which signed it on 30 September 2014. India had actively participated in the negotiating process, making significant contribution in finalizing the treaty text.
Most of India’s neighbours – Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan – are also signatories to the Convention. Only Sri Lanka has ratified it till now.
India’s ministry of environment, forest and climate change (MoEFCC), which is the nodal department for the convention, is putting a brave face on the delay.
“Comments were sought from various ministries on the Minamata Convention. We have got responses from all the concerned ministries. Once we study them, we will take the issue to the Union cabinet for a final decision. Once the cabinet clears it we will move for the ratification process," said a senior MoEFCC official on condition of anonymity.
As a result, India will take part in the first meeting of the Parties to the Convention in September as an observer only.
Experts point out that India has already started various measures to reduce the use of mercury and resultant pollution.
However, Toxics Link, an India-based NGO working on environmental issues, said “reducing emissions of mercury from thermal power plants continues to be a challenge for the country."
“We could have moved faster but the process started too late. We don’t know when the ratification will happen but the fact remains whatever decisions are taken at its first meeting India will not have much of a say in that as India is going as an observer and not as a party to the Convention. A lot of decisions will be taken at the first CoP for its implementation. There could be some things that may not be in favour of India. We would be allowed to object but the countries that are Party to the Convention will have e larger say on it," said Satish Sinha, who is associate director at Toxics Link.
“Also till the time we ratify it we can’t get any technological or financial assistance under the Convention. The country further requires concerted effort in addressing all issues related to mercury and its adverse effects on human health and environment," he added.