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Essay Contest for Excellence in the Pursuit of Management

Subject: E-waste in India

Electronic or Electrical waste (E-waste), comprising of items as diverse as discarded


mobiles, personal computers, CD-ROMs, electrical appliances etc, has become an
important issue in the management and disposal of solid wastes. A natural outcome of the
above phenomenon is the need for a correct measurement of its impact so that a suitable
response to the menace is formulated. The following lines explore this need to provide
the same for India, a fast developing nation with somewhat less regulatory structure in
place for these new-age policy issues.

The exponential speeds with which e-commodities are getting obsolete, coupled with the
lax attitude towards their disposal have all but led to a serious environmental and health
hazard. This is especially true of countries like India, which are already strained by the
demands of education, health, poverty of vast stretches of the population in its march
towards development. Interestingly, an added sweet-poison for India has been its
propensity to import e-waste. A simple math can show up the cost of dismantling a PC in
India to be a fraction of that in the U.S. Essentially it implies that India is a dumping
ground for the west. Compounding the issue is the extra-legal nature of the trade, which
makes it near impossible to measure the exact amounts of e-waste recycled or disposed
off. This all, in gross contravention to the Basel norms laid down for the management of
toxic wastes.
Independent studies have given an estimate of this e-waste to be about five million tonnes
annually. But this is quite conservative because it takes into account only three segments,
namely televisions, PC’s and mobile phones, which are but a mere thirty percent of the
total electronic products in market. To translate these numbers into a cumulative sum
gives about fifteen million tonnes of e-waste or about one and a half kilos per capita
annually in India. To mark out the associated health hazards to humans requires but a
cursory glance to secondary school science text-books. A presence of such metals as
Mercury, Cobalt, Barium, Arsenic etc. requires the waste management techniques to be
of the highest standard, which unfortunately the laws of economics do not allow. Thus a
true picture of the damage to a land inhabited by a continent sized population, its ecology
and society has largely been ignored.

A measurement of the e-waste phenomenon requires first of all a proper definition of the
term ‘e-waste’ which can serve as a guiding light in its measurement. For this many of
the local ad hoc rules and laws framed with respect to e-waste need to be re-visited. Thus
can be drafted a comprehensive classification of the concept. Next is a correct knowledge
of the variables involved like an assessment of India’s trade volume, its import regime,
the number of recycling units and disposal yards, and the various e-waste management
techniques employed. Along with this, the stake-holders such as the concerned ministry,
the pollution control boards, the various manufacturers, recyclers etc. need to be
identified. Lastly there is a need for a careful recognition of the various downsides to the
measurement of the issue. These could be the practices to fudge data, resistance to the
correct record of measurement amongst others. In essence any deterrents need to be
documented as they can provide more than an indication to the draft of the final policy.