By Rakesh Bhatnagar
The national auditing authority has slammed the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) for its lackadaisical attitude in the disposal of ever-increasing electronic waste in the country as it neither had access to the basic information on the quantity of e-waste generated from a variety of electronic tools which were rendered as junk, nor the manner of their disposal.
While CPCB estimated that 1.47 lakh tonnes of e-waste was generated and processed despite the authenticated report estimating that annual generation and disposal, if any, was to the tune of eight lakh tonnes by 2012.
However, a study conducted by the United Nations University in 2014 estimated that quantity of e-waste generated in India was 16.41 lakh tonnes. But CPCB was unaware of this aspect of gravity of pollution due to increased electronic waste in the country.
The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) submitted its report to Parliament during the recently concluded winter session. It points out that 10 States (Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Delhi, Karnataka, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Punjab) together generated 70 percent of the total e-waste.
But CPCB did not conduct any independent assessment of e-waste generation and processing in India after 2005 and remained under the illusion that it wasn’t increasing despite mammoth rise in the usage of electronic gadgets including computers, laptops and mobile phones by people.
The annual reports for 2012-13 submitted by 11 pollution control bodies revealed that they had collected only 6,524 MT of e-waste and a year later they had collected 1.21 lakh MT of e-waste.
CPCB was also unaware of the quantity of e-waste generated and collected in the country and consequently did not assess the “scope and magnitude” of e-waste management activities to be covered under the Rules, read the report which is under the scanner of Ministry of Environment and Forests.
The fact remains that even after inception of the E-waste (Management and Handling) Rules in 2011, CPCB remained in dark about the quantity of e-waste being generated and processed in the country.
CAG also points out that Reduction of use of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) in manufactured or imported EEE were to be achieved within a period of two years from the date of commencement of the concerned Rules by 1 May, 2014 but the national pollution control body couldn’t put in place mechanism for enforcement of their various provisions. CAG said that CPCB, being the nodal agency responsible for overseeing the implementation of anti-pollution measures was unable to effectively coordinate with SPCBs and PCCs to determine the number of producers, collection centres, dismantlers and authorised of e-waste in each state.
CPCB also failed to suggest any mechanism to monitor the compliance to Extended Producer Responsibility of EEE.
In this backdrop, there was no assurance that generation and treatment of e-waste in the country "has been controlled and environmental risks reduced", CAG expressed its anguish.
E-waste is defined as waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (EEE), whole or in part or rejects from their manufacturing and repair process, which are intended to be discarded. E-waste contains useful material of economic benefit like plastics, iron, aluminum, copper, silver, gold and platinum, etc.
It also contains heavy metals like lead, chromium, mercury, cadmium, etc. and other toxic substances that may cause health risks and damage to environment. High rates of obsolescence of EEE coupled with an increase in the demand of such products necessitate recycling of e-waste for recovery of useful material from the waste.
“Therefore, collection and recycling or treatment of e-waste needs to be done in an environmentally safe manner to prevent pollution due to the hazardous substances present in the waste”, CAG recommended.
CAG’s report comes close to a report by UN Environmental Programme which had said that the volume of e-waste being produced including mobiles phones and computers could rise by as much as 500 percent over the next decade in many countries including India.
The effect of electromagnetic radiation on health of human beings, animals, birds and honeybees through radiation “is a matter of serious concern”, UN had said.
In addition to this report, Rakesh Garg, secretary of Department of Telecommunication (DoT) had told a parliament committee that Electromagnetic Radiation (EMR) could also occur from natural sources like ultraviolet light from the sun and lightning.
“EMR may also be generated by manmade sources like power (electricity) lines, TV/radio broadcasts, fixed and mobile radio communication, radars, medical devices, satellite communications, X-rays, radioactive material, et al”, he had stated.
“To say that we live in a highly environmentally-challenging world which is seriously affected by radiation wouldn’t be inappropriate”, the parliamentary committee had said early last year.
However, the World Health Organisation (WHO) opined that “considering the very low exposure levels and research results collected to date, there is no convincing scientific evidence that the weak RF signals from base stations and wireless networks caused adverse health effects”.
In other words, this WHO report has rubbished the serious concerns expressed in emerging and developing nations where a large number of people suffer from a variety of diseases caused by air and radioactive pollution.