India is finally set to have a law which can tackle head on the mounting problem of electronic waste dumped in the country.

“The provisions of the new law could be such as could effectively monitor the trade in electronic waste and reduce illegal imports,” Ravi Agarwal, director of Toxics Link, said in an interview.

He did not rule out a provision for penalty, which has been difficult to implement so far due to legal hassles.

Toxics Link is a front-ranking NGO which is part of a coalition of NGOs and a member of several international networks, like the ELCINA Electronic Industries Association of India and the Manufacturers Association for IT, which is represented on most Indian government forums and works for the advancement of the IT industry in India.

According to Toxics Link, India generates around 400,000 tonnes of e-waste annually. This estimation includes only waste from equipment like computers, TVs and mobile phones.

The quantum would be much bigger if other equipment like printers, refrigerators, washing machines and small household appliances were included.

Most large cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai and Kolkata are large generators of this waste. Even smaller cities and towns are beginning to add a lot of e-waste, according to Toxics Link.

“Illegal importers bring electronic waste into the country in shipments under misleading labels as 'reusable electronic goods' or 'second hand computers,” Agarwal told IANS. “It is virtually impossible to check each individual consignment in the shipments as there are so many seaports and customs do not have any proper scanning or other infrastructure in place.”

India and other developing countries like China, Nigeria, South Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, Vietnam and Brazil are literally being dumped with e-waste even though there is a clear government ban on import of such waste in India under the Basel Convention, the most comprehensive global environmental agreement on hazardous and other wastes.

But the government is tackling the e-waste problem. “The government has been extremely open to suggestions and have taken all our concerns on board and will soon come out with draft rules which will ultimately become law,” Ravi said.

The government does have clear guidelines to deal with e-waste. “But the guidelines of the Central Pollution Control Board are voluntary in nature,” he said.

“The producers and users are free to dispose of e-waste in any manner and hence most of this toxic waste flows to the informal sector where there are no occupational and environment safety norms,” he said.

“But the new rules should change all this, as both these stakeholders will be made responsible for their waste and could be penalised for violating norms laid down in the rules. Depending on the final rules notified, there might also be restrictions on use of hazardous material in products.

The e-waste rules will be notified under the Environment Protection Act (EPA). The EPA is an act for overall environment protection, but it does not specify norms for handling and management of each kind of waste,” he said.

“The proposed Draft Rules (by Toxics Link and partners) do suggest stricter measures for controlling and monitoring the waste trade and should be able to reduce illegal imports,” Agarwal told IANS.

The government will soon issue the draft rules, inviting public opinion, following which the final law will come into effect, he said.