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Environment Ministry Subservient to Commerce Ministry, permits traders to import hazardous wastes

Written By Krishna on Wednesday, May 23, 2012 | 6:10 AM


Environment Ministry Subservient to Commerce Ministry, permits traders to import hazardous wastes

Both Ministries acting under influence of hazardous waste traders in contempt of Supreme Court order

New Delhi 23/ 5/2012: ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA) disputes the contention of Jayanthi Natarajan, Union Minister of Environment and Forests in the Lok Sabha on May 21, 2012 wherein she said "Import of such (hazardous) wastes for disposal is not permitted. Import is permitted only for recycling or recovery or reuse with the permission of the Ministry of Environment and Forests and/or Directorate General of Foreign Trade," of Union Commerce Ministry. Her reply that defines hazardous waste as recyclable material appears to be an exercise in sophistry. The reply is attached.

If this reply of Union Minister of Environment and Forests is read with the attached 'Statement of Hazardous Goods Lying at Ports' given to the Parliament by Union Minister of Shipping, the true nature of the goings on stands exposed. How is it that waste oil which is officially admitted as waste oil referred to as hazardous good. TWA has sent a letter to the Prime Minister as well. The same is attached.

TWA underlines that as per the official National Inventory of Hazardous Waste Generating Industries, total waste handling capacities of Treatment Storage Disposal Facilities (TSDFs) is about 1.5 million tonnes per annum (MTA) and there is a deficit of about 1.2 MTA for land fillable wastes and about 0.9 MTA for incinerable wastes. When the country does not have the even the required capacity of TSDF, how can import of hazardous waste be "permitted" in the name of "recycling or recovery or reuse" and still have the Parliament and the countrymen believe that "Import of such (hazardous) wastes for disposal is not permitted."

Union Minister of Environment and Forests did not provide complete details to the Parliament in her reply when she said that "during the last three years, has given permission for import of Lead Scrap, Plastic waste generated from industrial process, non-activated glass cullets, etc. by actual users for recycling in an environmentally sound recycling facilities."

TWA demands that both Commerce and Environment Ministry should come out with a White Paper on Domestically generated hazardous waste and Import and Export of Hazardous Waste explaining which of them are being used, reused or processed for recovery. Commerce and Environment Ministry should reveal how of "Lead Scrap, Plastic waste generated from industrial process, non-activated glass cullets, etc" that is generated within the country is reused. Why should Union Environment Ministry choose to simply act subservient to Union Commerce Ministry given the fact that the latter's mandate is not to save environment.

As per a 54 page Report of the Committee to Evolve Road Map on Management of Wastes in India, Union Ministry of Environment & Forests there are about 36,000 hazardous waste generating industries in India which generate 6.2 million tonnes out of which land fillable hazardous waste is about 2.7 million tonnes (44%), incinerable hazardous waste is about 0.4 million tonnes (7 %) and recyclable hazardous waste is about 3.1 million tonnes (49 %). Indiscriminate and unscientific disposal of wastes in the past has resulted in several sites in the country to become environmentally degraded. Isn't our own hazardous waste sufficient?

TWA demands that both Commerce and Environment Ministries and the coordination Committee explain whether they have dealt with the "141 hazardous waste dumpsites that have been primarily identified in 14 States/UTs out of which 88 critically polluted locations are currently identified." If they are unable to deal with the domestically generated waste in a scientific and environmentally sound manner and are compel them to dump them, how can Environment Ministry's reply to the Parliament that implies that India has the capacity to deal with the imported hazardous waste for any purpose be deemed convincing.

It has come to light from the the Minister's statement that a co-ordination committee comprising of representatives from the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Commerce and Industries, the Ministry of Shipping, Central Pollution Control Board and select State Pollution Control Boards has been constituted that claims to be "working to sensitize the Customs authorities regarding enforcement of these Rules in order to check illegal import of hazardous waste into the country." It appears that through linguistic manipulation waste is been re-defined as non-waste. What has become evident is that Indian regulations offers least resistance to dumping of hazardous wastes. In fact it welcomes hazardous wastes trade in the name of "recycling or recovery or reuse" of hazardous wastes.

The Ministry appears to be have done its homework to justify hazardous waste trade in various disguises. Under Rule 23 of Hazardous Wastes (Management, Handling and Transboundary Movement) Third Amendment Rules, 2008 refers to the “Responsibilities of Authorities” which is specified in its Schedule VII that provides the List of Authorities and Corresponding Duties” wherein it is mentioned that Directorate-General of Foreign Trade constituted under the Foreign Trade (Development and Regulation) Act, 1992 has a duty to “Grant License for import of hazardous wastes”.

It is noteworthy that since 1989 till 2012, there has been several amendments to the Rules. Interestingly, the new 7 page Draft Hazardous Wastes (Management, Handling and Transboundary Movement) Fifth Amendment Rules, 2011 engineers these Rules and inserts a new definition of waste. It reads: "“(zea) “waste” means materials, that are not products or by-products, for which the generator has no further use in terms of his/her own purposes or for production, transformation or consumption, and of which he/she wants to dispose." Its Explanation1 reads: "Wastes may be generated during the extraction of raw materials, the processing of raw materials into intermediates and final products, the consumption of final products, and through other human activities. Residuals recycled or reused at the place of generation as a part of process are excluded." Its Explanation 2 reads: "By-product means a material that is not solely or separately produced by the production process but gets produced in the process and is used as such." TWA hold that the amendments are being done under undue influence of the global hazardous waste traders. The new Draft Rule is attached..

The subordinate legislation with regard to Hazardous Wastes (Management, Handling and Transboundary Movement) are contrary to the orders issued by the Supreme Court. The order dated 14th October, 2003 endorsed Basel Convention as well. The new notification is in contempt of the Court and violates the spirit of the Basel treaty by allowing traders to deal with hazardous wastes who are endangering public and ecological health.

It is indeed strange that while the Environment Ministry admits that there is huge deficit of capacity to deal with hazardous wastes generated in the country, the new Hazardous Waste Rules, Amendments and Procedures permit traders to import hazardous wastes.

It is clear from the the existing Hazardous Waste Rules (including the amendments till 30 March, 2010) that it promotes trade in hazardous waste unmindful of the National Environment Policy that acknowledges how "Environmental factors are estimated as being responsible in some cases for nearly 20 percent of the burden of disease in India". Supreme Court Monitoring Committee (SCMC) on Hazardous Wastes members opine that "Truly, we take three steps forward and then five steps backward."

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."

The 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." The situation remains unchanged.

In its report the 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 intent of the Commerce and Environment Ministry stood exposed when it proposed an amendment to the Hazardous Wastes (Management & Handling) Rules; after amendment it was to read "Hazardous Materials (Management, Handling and Transboundary Movement) Rules, 2007. The proposed rules was to have the effect of exempting transit countries from obtaining prior informed consent for all shipments of hazardous waste to India. The proposal also stated that as long as a material contains less than 60 per cent contamination by a hazardous constituent, then it is safe for our ecology. Waste asbestos embedded in the structure of the scrap material is not banned. This sleight of hand at redefinition attracted widespread criticism from environment and public health groups. Startled by the proposed rules environment and public health researchers and activists termed it as a gross act done at the behest of hazardous waste traders. Even the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) has expressed its concerns in November 2007. The Supreme Court's own Monitoring Committee on Hazardous Wastes, had also objected. As a consequence the word "wastes" was not replaced with "materials" but "Transboundary Movement" remains. In effect, the original Rules was mutilated and the process of mutilating it further is underway .

As a consequence hazardous waste importers are bringing in lakhs of tonnes of hazardous waste into India without facing any legal hurdle. Earlier, Environment Ministry’s Hazardous Waste Rules prohibited import of waste oil, ash and residues from incineration of municipal solid waste, plastic, and unsorted waste scrap. But the same was allowed under the Open General License of the export-import policy of the Commerce Ministry. This led to import of ash and residues from incineration of municipal solid waste has increased by about 130 times during 2006-2009. The import of plastic waste increased by seven times during this period. Countries such as Netherlands, Germany and the United Kingdom have realized that Indian regulations are hazardous waste friendly. There was a 48 per cent increase in hazardous waste trade import during 2006-2009.

Acknowledging such a situation, the then Union Environment and Forest Minister had written a letter to Union Commerce Minister Anand Sharma in April 2010 urging alignment of Hazardous Waste Rules and Export-Import policy to reduce “scope of confusion” at implementation level. “I suggest that a joint group of the two ministries be set up to resolve the issue”, the minister said and had further added that some export-oriented units especially those in the Special Economic Zones (SEZ) were importing hazardous waste without seeking approval from either the Ministries. They were also operating without a mandatory “consent to operate” under environmental laws aimed at protecting the environment. The minister had said, “An impression also seems to have gained ground that such units are exempt from the provisions of environment regulations can import hazardous wastes without any permission. These impressions need to be corrected”. What has happened since then is that instead of aligning and factoring in environmental concerns in the hazardous waste trade, blind profiteering has taken precedence over public health concerns. The Hazardous Wastes Rules do not apply to SEZ. TWA demands that the names of SEZs which are importing hazardous wastes must be disclosed.

The hazardous waste case is due for hearing in August 2012 in the apex court.

For details: Gopal Krishna. ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA), Mb- 09818089660, E-mail- krishna1715@gmail.com, Web: toxicswatch.blogpsot.com
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