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Supreme Court Committee seeks CBI probe into illegal waste oil import

Written By Gopal Krishna on Sunday, January 18, 2009 | 9:52 PM

Supreme Court Monitoring Committee (SCMC) on Hazardous Wastes has recommended a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) inquiry into the unpardonable breach of environmental security and contempt of court by the non- traceable illegal waste oil importers and concerned officials. The case is due for hearing on January 28, 2009 in the apex court. SCMC has singled out Maharashtra, Gujarat and Kerala for their non-compliance with the court’s orders.

According to the definition, waste oil, which comes off ships, contains spills of crude oil, tank-bottom sludge, used fuel remains, emulsions and slop oil, and is highly hazardous. Such oil contain toxic levels of cadmium, chromium, arsenic, lead, sulphur and halogens, among other substances. Its processing releases harmful constituents such as dioxins and furans, which are proven cancer-causing toxins into the environment.

Surprisingly, in his report submitted to the court, Gopal Subramaniam, the Additional Solicitor General has conceded the fact of ongoing illegal traffic of waste oil but has not held anyone guilty nor has he sought any penal action against the culprits. Surprisingly in his report submitted to the court the Additional Solicitor has conceded the fact of ongoing illegal traffic of waste oil but has not held anyone guilty nor has he sought any penal action against the culprits.

Unscrupulous traders in the garb of importing used oil or furnace oil, are importing waste oil which is a banned item. So far Environment Ministry has not taken any action on illegal hazardous waste imports. Issue of waste oil, a hazardous waste is still pending the Supreme Court. All through 2007, the court kept asking the the ministry of environment and forests to come out with clear guidelines to contain illegal waste oil trade in India but so far its directions has not been complied with.

The additional solicitor general was supposed to give a comprehensive note to the court in this regard to implement the recommendations of the Prof. M.G.K. Menon Committee on waste and used oil, set up by the court. The court has asked the ministry to list out the importers, who illegally imported the 133 containers of waste oil, and make them pay for it. The court is yet to pass orders on the 209 other containers of waste oil which are lying at ports.

It has been brought to the notice of the Court that 15 importers, whose names and addresses are known, illegally imported waste oil in 133 containers in the garb of lubricating oil. Prof. Menon Committee's report (pp. 170-171) had noticed the presence of the consignment of this waste oil after the laboratory tests were undertaken.

The illustrative incidents of illegal handling of waste oil like the instance of illegal handling, the Inland Container Depot (ICD), Tughlakabad, Delhi released 51 containers of waste oil to two companies in the second week of February, 2003. And 16 containers were released to Faridabad-based Pal Chemicals Ltd and 35 to Ludhiana-based Om Udyog Ltd.

The other case pertains to Jawahar Customs, Nhava Sheva, Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust (JNPT), Mumbai. Jawahar Customs published an auction notice for 273.16 metric tonnes of waste oil in the Mumbai edition of a national daily on February 13, 2003. The auction was scheduled to take place within the JNPT premises.

The situation has worsened after the Supreme Court order dated 14 October, 2003 that called for tightening of norms because of ports lack of adequate equipment and capacity to test and track where the waste oil goes. The near defunct status of Central Pollution Control Board has been highlighted by a recent report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Environment as well. Prof. Menon Committee too had revealed the decay in the capacity of the pollution control boards across the country.

According to the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, 1973, called the Marpol Convention, ports are required to have storage and incineration facilities for hazardous oil. Our ports do not have such facilities and the oil is directly given to recyclers without testing for percentage of contaminants. Because it is given away directly, it is virtually impossible for Pollution Control Boards to either know the content of the oil or to track its movement.

Earlier, the court had ordered on May 5, 1997, “no authorisation or permission (for hazardous waste) would be given to any authority ... which has already been banned by the Union government or by any order made by any court or any other authority...(In addition to this) no import would be made or permitted … under the Basel Convention.”

In 2006, National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI)'s Status Report on Management of Hazardous Waste in India noted, “Lack of laboratory facilities for analysis of trace organics such as PCBs could either result in holding up of supplies for long periods of time merely on grounds of suspicion or lead to illegal imports of waste oil under the garb of used oil. As a first step, a through assessment of laboratory facilities available at all the ports, in particular, facilities available both in terms of equipment and trained man-power and equipment for analysis of all important heavy metals and trace organics, should be taken up and a time-bound plan prepared for their upgradation. Till such time all the ports are upgraded both in terms of equipment and training of laboratory personnel,, it would be necessary to consider channelisation of all hazardous wastes through selected ports well equipped to handle them and for this purpose, ports may be categorised suitably."

Arul Rajan, Proprietor of Chennai based Arul Exports & Imports has posted an advertisement dated 15th February, 2008 saying, "We need waste oil in large quantity. Interested parties contact with full details." This ad is valid till February 14,2009. One can visit http://www.alibaba.com/buyeroffers/Waste_Oil.html and check several such importers. If importing waste oil is indeed a banned item, how come such ads are being published? The connivance of ministries of Commerce, Finance and Environment is quite manifest.

In February 2002, the Supreme Court had fined the Ministry of Environment & Forests Rs.10, 000 for not having complied with its orders regarding the disappearance of hazardous waste oil from major ports in the country. The waste oil was imported into the country as lubricants. Perhaps the apex court may be compelled to once again impose penalties and recommend penal action based on CBI’s findings against the government officials and the importers.
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