Govt may ban import of e-waste

The government is considering banning the import of used computers and other electronic waste - coming primarily from developed nations such as US, Australia, Canada and parts of Europe - after several cases of e-waste smuggling came to light recently.

A decision is likely to be taken at the Economic Intelligence Council meeting scheduled for this month to be chaired by finance minister Pranab Mukherjee.

The matter had come up for discussion at the coordination committee meeting of various economic intelligence agencies chaired by revenue secretary Sunil Mitra in mid-July. Mitra had then asked the director general of foreign trade to frame suitable changes in the policy to ban such imports.

The e-waste issue assumed significance after the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) seized some containers in Chennai containing large quantity of such waste. The imports were made despite a prohibitory order in this regard. The half-a-dozen seized containers were filled with outdated computers and electrical waste. On further investigation, it was found that containers carried hundreds of tonnes of e-waste sourced from Australia, Canada, Korea and Brunei in violation of norms.

E-waste is being dumped in the country by developing nations using loopholes in domestic rules which allow NGOs and educational institutions to import such gadgets freely on the pretext of donations.

Conscious of the fact that huge shipments of e-waste generated in developing countries are finding convenient burial ground in India, the government had through a public notice on May 13, 2010 prohibited educational and other institutions from importing second hand computers, laptops and computer peripherals, including printers, plotters, scanners, monitors, keyboards and storage units. The step was short of a complete ban on such imports.

However, with Customs continuing to seize such illegal shipments, it seems the prohibition order has had little impact. Though the finance ministry is in favour of a complete ban, the commerce ministry does not seem too inclined for such stringent measures.

At the July meeting chaired by the revenue secretary, DGFT had mooted the idea of raising vigilance at ports and asking the Customs department to confiscate such imports if detected, instead of a complete ban.

Till the DGFT came up with the May 13 amendment prohibiting e-waste import, second hand computers and laptops were brought into the country using this clause that allowed such imports through donations made to educational institutions, registered charitable hospitals, public library, research and development organisations and community information centers.

Disposal of e-waste often leads to emission of dangerous gases like in the process of recovery of copper from e-waste dioxins are released in the environment. Toxic cyanide is released in the process of extraction of yellow metal from electrical waste and computer components.

Environmental agencies worldwide estimate dumping of e-waste in India is likely to go up by 500% in the next 10 years. Already, environment bodies estimate India generates nearly 4 lakh tonnes of e-waste annually which is likely to double in the next few years. The country, however, lacks effective disposal mechanism.


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