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Proposed hazardous waste management rule: A Real hazard to the environment
Hazardous Changes to the Hazardous waste Rules
Industrial policies since independence fostered the growth of industries in India. The rapid industrialisation has been key to the economic growth. But one of the downsides of industrialization has been the generation of large quantity of hazardous wastes. Hazardous waste is a term applied to those wastes that because of their chemical reactivity, toxicity, explosiveness, corrosiveness, radioactivity or other characteristics, constitutes a risk to human health or the environment. Such wastes maybe generated as a by-product in the manufacturing processes or maybe generated from the use of various catalysts, which need to be disposed off when spent.
To address this critical problem, The Hazardous Wastes (Management and Handling) Rules were issued in the year 1989 under the umbrella of Environment Protection Act (EPA). These rules classified hazardous wastes into 18 categories in its Schedule-1 based on constituents present. The Government of India amended the Rules in the year 2000 and further in the year 2003. These amended Rules brought in following basic modifications with respect to definition of wastes: Identified the types of hazardous wastes likely to be generated from different industrial processes. Such wastes are deemed as "hazardous" irrespective of constituents / concentrations. Identified concentrations or constituents of wastes, which are to be classified "hazardous" only if they exceed the threshold concentration limits mentioned in the Rules.
Categories of wastes banned for export and import had also been defined in these amendments, fulfilling the Basel Convention, ratified by India in 1992. The basic objectives of the Basel Convention are for the control and reduction of transboundary movements of hazardous and other wastes subject to the Convention, prevention and minimization of their generation, environmentally sound management of such wastes and for active promotion of the transfer and use of cleaner technologies.
The hazardous waste generated in the country per annum currently is estimated to be around 8 million tonnes out of which 70% is being generated by five states, namely Gujarat, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. Only three States have developed common TSDF (Treatment, Storage, Disposal Facility), which are essential component of proper hazardous waste management activity for ultimate disposal of the hazardous wastes in an environmentally sound manner. These 10 facilities are currently operational only in Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra. (Source: Central Pollution Control Board).
Though the Hazardous Wastes (Management & Handling) Rules were notified in 1989, the implementation on the ground has left a lot to be desired. Lack of proper infrastructure and strict enforcement mechanism has led to hazardous waste still remaining a grave problem. New emerging wastes and loopholes in the current legislation have also contributed to this. There are still problems of hazardous waste not being managed in sound environmental conditions, improper dumping and lack of proper treatment and disposal facilities. There are also reports of illegal import of hazardous material in the country.
Ministry of Environment and Forest has recently further amended and issued the draft Hazardous waste Rules which is now termed as Hazardous Materials (Management, Handling and Transboundary Movement) Rules, 2007. (The new Draft was notified on 28/9/2007 by Ministry of Environment and Forest, Government of India and was available on the their website. The draft was open to comments for three months.
The new draft claims to address sustainable development concerns and also enable the recovery and/or reuse of useful materials from hazardous materials generated from a process, thereby, reducing the hazardous wastes destined for final disposal and to ensure the environmentally sound management of all hazardous materials.
This new revision is a major departure from the earlier amendments, as it talks about "Hazardous Materials" instead of "Hazardous Waste". It categories recyclable hazardous waste as non-waste, instead of giving it a term "Hazardous Material". This change is bound to create uncertainty among the generators regarding whether they are handling hazardous waste or hazardous materials and leaves scope for different interpretation. In fact this will take out most hazardous waste out of "waste" category and will eventually lead to improper handling causing environmental degradation. This ill-defined categorisation will also put all the raw materials with the mentioned characteristics (like flammability, corrosiveness etc) under this Rule. This can snowball into a major monitoring and implementation drawback. The Rule also has overlapped with the existing Manufacture, Storage and Import of Hazardous Chemical Rules, 1989. Moreover, it is an unnecessary change as terming recyclables as waste is not in anyway anti recycling.
This move is also in complete violation of the Basel Convention. The new categorization will open the floodgates for import of recyclable hazardous waste to India, making it a global waste destination. In times when India is finding it difficult to manage its own waste, this shift is certainly not warranted.
The revision also does not take into account the observation made in the Supreme Court judgments on the issue, which clearly stresses on the need to have better implementation of the existing Rule.
The Draft Rule also reduces the control over the generators and handlers of hazardous waste. It removes the stipulation, which required them to seek authorisation from State Pollution Control Boards. This is bound to worsen the situation, as it will be impossible for the Central Bodies to monitor the units, leading to no control situation.
Some of the other major drawbacks in this new draft rules are:
- The Draft Rule describes certain characteristics by which the waste can be termed hazardous. Characteristics like leachibility have not been included
- The definition of Disposal covers only land disposal- missing out on disposal in other mediums
- The Rule does not mandate permission from Transit countries in case of export-import- this is in complete violation of the Basel Convention
- It does not propose streamlined collection mechanism for hazardous waste- specially new wastes like E-Waste
- The rule also does not address the inadequacy of disposal sites
- Occupational health safety measures in the units handling hazardous waste have also not been dealt with.
- No incentive or move to phase out toxic products in the production stage
These new modifications are bound to worsen the situation, which currently needs a strict and effective monitoring and implementation strategy. The problem, at present, is that the enforcement mechanism lacks teeth and has failed in curbing the improper handling of Hazardous waste.
The need of the hour is to have stringent implementation of the Existing Rules, which will lead to proper collection mechanism, sound recycling technologies, adequate and scientifically designed disposal sites. Sustainable Development concerns or enabling recovery and reuse of useful material from hazardous waste and thereby reducing the waste for final disposal is certainly a welcome thought. But the steps taken to achieve these in the draft Rule do seem ineffectual. The steps, in fact, seem to be more favourable towards making India a "Dumping Destination" in garb of "Recycling Destination".
The question is whether we want this and is this the way forward?