Skip to main content

Indian stance seeks to turn country into a 'landfill' for foreign hazardous waste

By Gopal Krishna* 

The 15th Conference of the Parties to the Basel Convention on Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal (COP-15) was underway with the 10th Conference of Parties to the Rotterdam Convention and the 10th Conference of Parties to the Stockholm Convention from June 6 to 17, 2022 in Geneva.
These meetings focused on the theme: "Global Agreements for a Healthy Planet: Sound management of chemicals and waste". Prior to the COP-13 of Basel Convention Union Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change had sought comments and suggestions on matters of the Basel Convention (BC), Rotterdam Convention (RC) and Stockholm Convention (RC). It was a good initiative but that approach has not been abandoned.
It may be recalled that on the opening day of the COP-13 of Basel Convention, India’s official delegation had shocked everyone with its statement in opposition to UN accord to stop the flow of hazardous wastes from developed to developing countries like India.
This position was akin to opposing Prime Minister’s Clean India Mission. This position was also contrary to Supreme Court’s verdict in the hazardous wastes case. The verdict was based on the recommendations of Prof MGK Menon headed High Powered Committee on Hazardous Wastes Management.
During COP-15, India raised the issue of mixutre of hazardous and non-hazardous wastes which are mis-labeled as products imported for recycling or recovery along with other countries. This needs to be looked at in the light of India’s Hazardous and Other Wastes (Management and Transboundary Movement) Rules, 2016 under the Environment (Protection) At, 1986.
It may be noted that the “transboundary movement” means any movement of hazardous or other wastes form an area under the jurisdiction of one country to or through an area under the jurisdiction of another country or to or through an area not under the jurisdiction of any country, provided that at least two countries are involved in the movement.
It reveals that "transboundary movement" of hazardous waste has become part of ministry's sound environmental management approach. This term was introduced in 2008 when Hazardous Waste (Management, Handling & Transboundary Movement) Rules, 2008 was farmed apparently under the influence of hazardous waste traders when the pre-existing Hazardous Waste Rule was amended. This term has been lifted from UN’s Basel Convention on Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal.
It may be recalled that the 2008 Rules was initially proposed as “Hazardous Materials (Management, Handling and Transboundary Movement) Rules”. The use of the term “Materials” instead of “Wastes” was an exercise in linguistic corruption whereby an attempt was made define waste as non-waste.
The Rules of 2016 does not factor in Ban Amendment to Basel Convention of 1995 which goes beyond "transboundary movement" of hazardous waste and other wastes. Since July 1989 till November 2021, the Hazardous Wastes Management Rules have been amended to dilute its original intent and purpose to steer clear of ban on free trade in hazardous waste.
The seemingly innocent observation of the Indian delegate at COP-15 assumes significance because India is yet to ratify Ban Amendment to Basel Convention which came into force on December 5, 2019. Now that the Basel Ban Amendment has become an international law, it prohibits the export of hazardous wastes from member states of the European Union, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and Liechtenstein to all other countries.
The Ban Amendment was adopted by the parties to the Basel Convention in 1995 which banned all forms of hazardous waste exports from the 29 wealthiest most industrialized countries of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) to all non-OECD countries from January 1, 1998.
In compliance with the spirit of Supreme Court’s verdict that endorsed Basel Convention in October 2003 and in the light of the Ban Amendment to Basel Convention of 1995, India will have to amend its Hazardous Waste Rules again.
Meanwhile, there is a need for joint reading of the Hazardous and Other Wastes (Management & Transboundary Movement) Amendment Rules, 2019 with the circular of Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) dated November 2, 2018 sent to all State Pollution Control Boards (SPCBs) on the subject of "Directions Under Section 18(1)(B) of The Water (Prevention & Control Of Pollution) Act, 1974 And The Air (Prevention & Control Of Pollution) Act, 1981 Regarding Streamlining Of Consent Mechanism".
It reveals how exemption from requirement of consent and authorization under the Hazardous and Other Wastes (Management & Transboundary Movement) Rules, 2016 will be deeply detrimental to the cause of environmental protection.
Given the fact that under Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act 1974 and Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act 1981, it is for the SPCBs and Pollution Control Committees (PCCs) of Union Territories which give consent and authorisation under these two Acts, the provision stating that "environmental surveillance of industries should be on random basis, and SPCBs/PCCs shall evolve mechanism for that" instead of 24X7 environmental surveillance on a regular basis paves the way for very serious disruption of existing regulatory mechanisms.
Such directions have already been implemented in some States who have exempted over 100 categories of industries from Hazardous and Other Wastes (Management & Transboundary Movement) Rules, 2016 and Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act 1974 and Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act 1981. This is fraught with unprecedented adverse consequences for environmental and occupational health and related disease burden.
At COP-13, one of the official delegates from India had given a speech crticising the Ban Amendment to Basel Convention belittling India’s stature and its scientific community by claiming that the Ban Amendment is contrary to sustainable consumption and the circular economy as well as the Sustainable Development Goals.
This strange claim implied India permits import of hazardous waste in a situation where services and infrastructure to deal with their hazardous waste and other wastes such as laboratories for testing samples of imported waste and treatment facilities and landfills are almost non-existent.
This amounted to turning India into a land of landfills for foreign hazardous wastes by allowing free trade in hazardous waste in a business as usual manner unmindful of Prime Minister’s Clean India Mission and Supreme Court’s verdict. Notably, Hazardous and Other Wastes (Management and Transboundary Movement) Rules, 2016 has a provision for “the import license from Directorate General of Foreign Trade”, Ministry of Commerce and Industry.
It disregards National Environment Policy that includes strategies for cleanup of toxic and hazardous waste dump legacies, developing a national inventory of such dumps, an online monitoring system for movement of hazardous wastes and taking legal measures for addressing emergencies arising out of transportation, handling, and disposal of hazardous wastes. The fact is that India does not have the capacity to scientifically treat and dispose of waste that is generated in the country.
The Supreme Court’s verdict states:
 “Hazardous Wastes are highly toxic in nature. The industrialization has had the effect of generation of huge quantities of hazardous wastes. These and other side effects of development gave birth to principles of sustainable development so as to sustain industrial growth. The hazardous waste required adequate and proper control and handling. Efforts are required to be made to minimise it. In developing nations, there are additional problems including that of dumping of hazardous waste on their lands by some of the nations where cost of destruction of such waste is felt very heavy. These and other allied problems gave birth to Basel Convention.”
This verdict was pronounced in Writ Petition (Civil) No.657 of 1995. Notably, Basel Convention has been made part of the verdict by the Court due to alarming situation created by dumping of hazardous waste, its generation and serious and irreversible damage, as a result thereof, to the environment, flora and fauna, health of animals and human beings. The Court took cognizance of dumping of hazardous wastes in Indian waters as violation of Article 14 and 21 of the Constitution of India.
It emerges that the Court’s verdict creates a compelling logic for India to ratify Ban Amendment to the Basel Convention to prevent dumping of all kinds of hazardous wastes including end-of-life ships in Indian waters. According to Basel Convention, “wastes are materials which are disposed of, or intended to be disposed of, or required to be disposed of, to the environment”. The Court’s verdict has directed the Union of India to incorporate the Basel list in the existing Rules and had actively argued for expanding the list of prohibited items for import.
India’s position articulated on June 8, 2022 at Geneva is linked to motivated attempts which have faced strident criticism from environment, public health groups and even the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) when hazardous wastes and hazardous materials and recyclable materials was being made synonymous by redefining "hazardous waste" as "hazardous material" in a manifest act of linguistic corruption.
It is noteworthy that in a study, Associated Chambers of Commerce & Industry (ASSOCHAM) also recommended ban on trade in hazardous wastes. They who are complicit in promoting hazardous waste dumping in the country are doing so at the behest of hazardous waste traders. Their role merits probe.
India must ratify Ban amendment to Basel Convention on Hazardous Waste Movement & Disposal in order to prevent dumping of waste
The reluctance of India in ratifying Ban Amendment to prohibit hazardous waste trade implies that Indian government is welcoming globalisation of the toxic hazardous waste and it arrival in Indian waters. India should call for the development of guidance to aid countries to help prohibit efforts to reclassify hazardous waste as non-waste in an exercise of circuitous definition.
Hazardous waste exporters from rich countries have been consistently seeking to export toxic scrap to India and likewise, there has been a similar trend amongst businesses in the India to import such waste. This is being done despite the fact that National Environment Policy acknowledges how "Environmental factors are estimated as being responsible in some cases for nearly 20 percent of the burden of disease in India".
India should resist the influence of global hazardous waste traders. She must take a principled stand in tune with the main principles of this UN treaty. These principles state that transboundary movements of hazardous wastes should be reduced to a minimum consistent with their environmentally sound management; hazardous wastes should be treated and disposed of as close as possible to their source of generation; and hazardous waste generation should be reduced and minimized at source.
The current position of Indian government is contrary to these principles and stands in manifest contrast with its position in 1992. It may be recollected that by decision III/1, of September 22, 1995, at COP-3, the Third meeting of the Conference of the Contracting Parties to Basel Convention that took place in Geneva in September 1995, adopted the Ban Amendment to the Convention. This amendment banned the export of hazardous wastes for final disposal and recycling from rich countries to poorer countries.
The Indian government seems to be guided by the position of hazardous waste traders from countries like USA, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, South Korea and Japan in general and U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the world’s largest business federation representing the interests of more than three million businesses, International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), US Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries and Bureau of International Recycling (BIR), the international trade federation representing the world’s recycling industry. These countries and their waste traders have been against Ban Amendment.
For long the government of USA and ICC have been instrumental in outwitting the UN ban on hazardous waste trade through bilateral Free Trade Agreements between countries. In one of its position paper on the Basel Convention, ICC has even called for the ban on hazardous waste to be stopped by the World Trade Organization (WTO) because it is trade disruptive.
This undermines the customary environmental law principles as well. As Chief Economist of World Bank, Summers wrote an internal memo in 1991 which stated, “I think the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest-wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that.” Unless India wriggles out of the vice like grip of the Lawrence Summers principle, it cannot ban free trade in wastes.
At COP-15, as part of Clean India Mission, Indian government ought to regain its original stance of being a strong opponent of the international waste trade and an ardent supporter ban on toxic waste exports from the world’s richest countries to less industrialized ones. Government of India should recollect its position at the First Conference of Parties to the Basel Convention (COP-1) in Piriapolis, Uruguay, from 3-4 December, 1992.
A Bhattacharja, Head of the Indian delegation, who pleaded with industrialized countries to stop exporting hazardous waste. “You industrial countries have been asking us to do many things for the global good — to stop cutting down our forests, to stop using your CFCs. Now we are asking you to do something for the global good: keep your own waste.” It is apparent that he was responding to Lawrence Summers’ memo dated December 12, 1991.
It may be noted that Indian government was based on scientific evidence even at the Second Conference of Parties Basel Convention (COP-2) in March 1994. It advocated ban on all hazardous waste exports from the world’s most industrialized countries, the members of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) to non-industrialized countries like India.
It was only in 1995 that Indian government reversed its position at the Third Conference of Parties to Basel Convention (COP-3) in September 1995 under the deletrous influence of representatives of the US and Australia. Indian delegate announcing that it was reconsidering its position on the Basel Ban.
It was a consequence of the regressive statement of Kamal Nath, the then Union Minister of Environment & Forests who observed that “We are against environmentally unfriendly recycling. We are not against the movement of waste, provided the recipient has adequate equipment, facility and the proper process to deal with it.” India’s position on the ratification of the ‘Ban Amendment’ to the Basel Convention is caught in a time warp crafted in 1995. It has paved the way for India to become a leading dumping ground of foreign hazardous waste.
To safeguard country’s environmental security and maritime security, India must not allow itself to be misled by hazardous waste traders who are blinded by their lust for profit at any human and environmental cost. In any case the truth about who all were immorally, unethically and unpatriotically complicit with the hazardous waste traders and who all defended public health will not remain hidden for long.
Recalling the Court’s verdict on hazardous waste and India’s original position against hazardous waste, India should ratify Ban Amendment to save India from becoming the dumping ground of rich countries which are transferring harm because they want to protect their own environment and public health.
India must take a scientific and moral position, recover the lost ground and re-adopt the 1992 position and ask the rich countries to “keep your own waste” for global common good to ensure that foreign toxic waste does not flow in the veins and arteries of present and future Indians.
---
*Law and public policy researcher, an applicant in the hazardous wastes case in the Supreme Court, associated with www.toxicswatch.org

Comments

TRENDING

'Halt Covid-19 vaccination drive': Indian doctors join campaign across 36 nations

By Rosamma Thomas*  A group of Spanish doctors first got together to call for a halt to the Covid-19 vaccinations, and doctors from other countries too later joined them – there are now over 12,000 doctors from India, Portugal, Canada, Hungary, South Africa, Israel and a host of other nations who have issued a call to halt vaccinations. On September 10, a group of Indian doctors came together to address the press over a webinar to explain why they thought the vaccination drive should end forthwith. Dr Amitav Banerjee, who after a career as an epidemiologist in the Indian Army now teaches at a private medical college in Pune, said there was no longer a medical emergency. Children are at low risk of infection, and there is good reason to halt vaccination and conduct proper research, given the high number of adverse events. There is a sudden and poorly explained spike in the number of young and healthy people dying. While it may be impossible to attribute deaths entirely to the vaccinatio

Did Mother Teresa trivialise poverty? 'You are suffering, that means Jesus is kissing you'

By Harsh Thakor*  The world commemorated the 25th death anniversary of Mother Teresa on September 5. Whatever her flaws, she rendered service to humanity in regions almost untranscended, resembling the relentless spirit of the waves of an ocean. Irrespective of community or religion, she offered her service. Even those not drawn by sainthood revere the role of Mother Teresa. For 68 years, she had worked selflessly and tirelessly in India and elsewhere in the world, taught the destitute, healed the sick, fed and clothed the poor, cared for abandoned children, housed lepers and those afflicted with HIV/AIDS and offered dignity in death to desolate persons abandoned by family and society. Mother Teresa was born in Skopje in 1910 to an Albanian family as AnjezĂ« Gonxhe Bojaxhiu. She became wedded to religious vows at an early age and moved to India to join the missionary work of the Catholic Church. Heartshaken by the misery faced by the Indian masses, in 1950 she set up her own

Pleading reparations from British? Will Brahminical elite do it for Dalits, Adivasis?

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat*  Queen Elizabeth II, the longest serving monarch of the British empire, died on September 8th at the age of 96, and since then the crazy 24x7 channels, including BBC and CNN, have been minutely reporting every event related to her death. The funeral will take place on September 19th, but till then people will watch various events and engagements of the royal family, particularly the new King Charles III and his consort. The Queen ruled for over 70 years, and hence one can understand the feeling of loss to a nation which ruled a large part of the world till the middle of the last century. India too declared a one-day national mourning on September 11th. World leaders are expected to join the funeral procession on September 19th, and the London police is expecting massive gathering of people and leaders on that day. The question as to why the United Kingdom, despite being a robust democracy, is still hanging on to monarchy has been widely discussed. The question b

Tracing roots of Hindutva Zionism: cannon fodder for 'warped' nationalist pretensions

By Shamsul Islam*  Those who believe in a world free of hegemonic ethno-nationalism, racism, religious bigotry and hatred have rightly taken note of Zionism and its ally Christian Zionism, major perpetrators of ethnic cleansing of ‘Others’. However, the civilized world with its core belief in multi-culturalism and peaceful co-existence is oblivious to a no less dangerous threat to the present human civilization: the Hindutva Zionism. As the term reads it is part of the Hindutva world-view which stands for an exclusive Hindu India minus Muslims and Christians. The other religions like Sikhism, Buddhism, and Jainism will have no independent status but treated as part of Hinduism. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS; National Volunteer Organization) is the most prominent flag-bearer of the Hindutva politics whose cadres presently rule India, the largest democracy in the world. RSS was founded by Keshav Baliram Hedgewar (1889-1940) in 1925 who was disillusioned with the Indian freedom st

Regional parties, anti-Congress progressives, civil society groups 'joining' Bharat Jodo

By Harshavardhan Purandare, Sandeep Pandey*  The Congress party declared Bharat Chhodo (Quit India) movement against the British regime in 1942. The Congress party has now launched a movement Bharat Jodo (Connecting and Uniting India) against the Modi regime in 2022. Indian people have had a journey of 80 years since Mahatma Gandhi gave that Quit India call to the British and we have to agree that we stand most divided in our modern history when Rahul Gandhi is giving this Bharat Jodo call to the nation. And back then, Congress was a thriving idealistic political movement against the British rulers and now it is an ever weakening political organization electorally defeated several times. However, it is India at stake, not just the Congress party. That is why so many regional political parties, civil society organizations, traditional anti-Congress progressive forces like socialists and communists, intellectuals and civil servants have declared their support and are proactively partici

Shocking? No Covid vaccine trials conducted on pregnant, lactating women: RTI reply

By Rosamma Thomas*  A Right to Information applicant who sought details of safety trials conducted in India on pregnant and lactating women for three Covid vaccines in use in India – Covishield, Covaxin and ZyCov-D -- was shocked to learn from the Central Drugs Standard Control Organization (CDSCO) that Serum Institute, manufacturer of Covishield, and Cadila Healthcare, manufacturer of the ZyCov-D vaccine, had not sought permission for such trials.  Bharat Biotech, manufacturer of Covaxin, had sought permission for trial on pregnant women and later withdrawn its application. This response , provided after the applicant was initially unsatisfied with the response and went in appeal, is from the joint drugs controller, CDSCO. It was dated September 13, 2022. One researcher closely following the vaccine rollout, however, is of the opinion that the lack of a trial on pregnant and lactating women is a blessing; potential trial participants and their unborn babies thus escaped harm. Aruna Ro

Grave error? Scholar blames ex-Gujarat babu for anti-Christian riots 'citing fake report'

By Rajiv Shah  A few days back, I received a message from one of the finest former Gujarat government bureaucrats, PG Ramrakhiani, a 1964 batch IAS official, who retired in November 2000. I would often interact with him in 1997-99, even later, after I was sent to Gandhinagar as a Times of India man to cover Sachivalaya. Those were turbulent times. Shankarsinh Vaghela was the Gujarat chief minister, under attack from two sides – from the BJP, which he had left to form a separate breakaway party, Rashtriya Janata Party (RJP), one one hand, and the Congress, which was supporting him from outside, on the other. Ramrakhiani, in his message, referred to the book authored by Ghanshyam Shah and Jan Breman, both top-notch scholars who have known Gujarat in and out. Called “Gujarat, Cradle and Harbinger of Identity Politics: India’s Injurious Frame of Communalism”, I reviewed the book in January 2022.  It claims that Muslims in Gujarat have been turned into “new untouchables”, thanks to the Hin

Excess to cheetah in Kuno to increase 'woes' of local people, 'disturb' wildlife balance

Bharat Dogra*  The release of eight cheetahs into the Kuno National Park ( Madhya Pradesh) by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on September 17, although accompanied by a media blitz, has raised several questions. The animals were flown from Namibia to Gwalior and from there they were taken to the release site in a helicopter. Official sources have stated that this is the first time a large carnivorous species has been moved across continents for establishing a new population. This first release will be followed by others under this project. However, precisely for this reason, it is important to be cautious because if such translocations have been generally avoided in the past, there may have been reasons for this and at the same time we do not have much learning experiences from the past. The Cheetah became extinct in India in 1952, although this very fast moving animal is still remembered in the folklore of many areas. Hence the first impulse is to say that trying to introduce and revive

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

'Military diplomacy': US praises Bangladesh Army for leadership role in UN operations

By Kamal Uddin Mazumder* As the Indo-Pacific region represents the world’s economic and strategic center of gravity, the Indian Ocean today is becoming the centerpiece of all geo-strategic play. Cooperation in the region is crucial to implementing the international community’s global agenda, including achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Major powers like the US have enhanced and deepened their strategic engagement and leadership roles with countries in the region. The Indo-Pacific Army Management Seminar, or IPAMS, is a U.S. Army Pacific (USARPAC) initiated conference that is aimed at facilitating and enhancing interactions among the armies of the Indo-Pacific region. This year's 46th Indo-Pacific Armies Management Seminar (IPAMS)-2022, co-hosted by the Bangladesh Army and US Army Pacific (USARPAC), concluded in Dhaka. The objective of IPAMS is to promote peace and stability in the region through mutual understanding, dialogue, and friendship. It is the largest confer