By Satish Sinha, Associate Director, Toxics Link
There is little doubt that the collective efforts of all the major stakeholders that shaped things up until the notification of the current e-waste Rules is a quite noteworthy. The notification too, by far is step in the right direction aiming to achieve environmentally sound management of this toxic waste while simultaneously minimizing ecological burden and also conserving natural resources.
Principles need directions and background planning
However, as always is the case the real question being asked is how we achieve what has been incorporated in the Rules. Mere inclusion of a concept can be a feel good factor for the government but proof of the pudding lies in what mechanisms and processes do we place on grounds to achieve our objectives.
mechanisms: they could have been better
for better governance
the critical omission
entities out of the preview: why?
On the spillover part, it is hoped that other South Asian and developing countries would take lessons from the Indian experience and address those contentious issues in e-waste management.
By Prashant Rajankar, Sr. Programme Officer, Toxics Link
The Policy came into effect from 21st of July 2010.
story: yours and mine
5:40 pm, at Itarsi junction: the appetite was quite strong for the reason it was snack-time and also because Itarsi junction is famous for Jalebees (coiled Indian sweet item) and Poorees, which I relish, ready-cooked. In fact most of the major rail stations in India are famous for some or the other food item (The Catering Policy 2010 too laid emphasis on the availability of regional cuisines). I ventured out on the platform to try some ready-cooked items that were visible to me from the tinted screen above my seat.
However, all my appetite went for a toss after spotting those local cuisines. The unhygienic aura that surrounded the food items there - uncovered stuffs, flies all over, poor sanitary conditions, foul smell and most importantly lack of personal hygiene of the serving staff – made my saliva rollback abysmally. The appetite was gone; all those bacteria I studied about during my education all together crossed over my mind reminding me of bad stomach to ulcers and to other toxic impacts, if I was to eat out in those conditions. Somewhat disappointed, I reverted, but not most of the passengers, traveling with me or waiting to board their train from this junction. Sometimes we budge under compulsion or when the urge to gulp-in local and ready cooked items could not be curbed God bless them! I said to myself.
For millions of travelers, such as daily / local passengers, the local staff or daily wage earners and many such people there is no second options per say. And therefore food safety, quality and hygiene at railways are very important.
few more interesting cases:
It looks like the impending transition between IRCTC and Indian Railways is anyway taking toll on the passengers, especially who travel long distance, at least for now.
Will the new policy ensure better amenities
It is a widespread notion, and to a large extent true, that the food passengers are severed on rail platforms or in the moving trains is far inferior in terms of quality and hygiene. The Indian Railways too has categorically stated this in their 2010 policy document (that over the years the quality and the efficiency of services have gone down). It is this factor people prefer to take home-cooked food along. It is also a commoner’s experience that in most cases the rail-food joints / canteens do not give a healthy look making conscious people normally refrain from visiting these joints unless unavoidable.
Certain issues in the rail catering services however need to be looked at very carefully.
The 2010 policy has laid down certain objectives in its preamble (Box 1) to address the issue of quality of food item and their efficient delivery. However, the priority areas, which have been stated in the policy in section 9.4, lower strata people, are compelled to suffer for the time being. The priorities are skewed towards ‘rich’ trains (Box 2). The social concerns are expressed but not clearly elaborated.
The policy also does not state clearly as to how thousands of vendors who use to sell food items on platforms be engaged in the new regime. Would the new plan to recruit trained catering staff from reputed management institution displace existing labor force, is not clear. How this shift and additional cost (or subsidy burden) would be managed is an issue.
As for Janta Meal (supposedly low-cost meals for normal passengers) menu and cost would be interesting to watch apart from the general quality and hygiene. Then there are issues on automated machines, sophisticated infrastructure and their maintenance. How Zonal Railways would engage appropriate service providers and how monitoring and compliance would be implemented are also pertinent issues that only time can flash light upon.
quality and hygiene: need to be properly benchmarked
For now, we hope that this transition from IRCTC to Indian Railways is smooth and productive.
Looking at the present state of chemicals management in the Indian sub-continent, in the year 2009-10, Toxics Link along with local partners in the South Asia region initiated a campaign on the issue of chemical safety. The main objective of this campaign is to building capacity of partners/ CSOs in the region so that indigenous efforts are strengthened in each country on chemicals safety issues. At present Toxics Link is partnering with Civil Society Organisations in Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Bhutan. The broad areas of engagements are as follows; (a) campaign for lead-free household paints, (b) mercury phase-out from healthcare sector, (c) Programme on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), and (d) Electronic waste management programme.
In Asia the coating solution sector has been growing at an average rate of about 10% in recent years. Various studies suggest the region would eventually emerge as the largest consumer of paints. Overall, decorative paint accounts for 60-70% total paint market in the region with organized sector players dominating the market (share is between 60-90% in different countries belonging to the region). Brands such as Asian Paints, Berger, Nerolac, Jenson and Nicholson and ICI are the major players and have overlapping trade interests in the region.
In our recent engagements on lead in paints, we have found that the standards regarding lead in paints in this region is voluntary to non-existent and the many paint manufacturers tend to take advantage of this situation by putting in excessive lead in their products primarily to capture greater market share.
at the closely knit, overlapping and integrated paint business, growing
public health concerns over the use of lead in paint in the region and
the existing non-enforceable regulatory mechanism, Toxics Link took
up a study of common paint brands to affirm if the acclaimed and responsible
multinationals practice double standards across countries of the region.
The aim however was to push the governments of the region to come up
with stricter and mandatory standards for lead (Pb) in paints. The study
was published in June 2011 and was released between June 30 to July
10 2011 in New Delhi in India, Kathmandu in Nepal and Dhaka in Bangladesh.
The study can be viewed at:
In the study a total of 27 paint samples were purchased from Delhi, Kathmandu and Dhaka market between October 2010 and December 2010 and were analyzed for their lead content at the Delhi Test House (NABL accredited lab – ISO/ IEC 17025:2005), Delhi using standard operating method. Following came out of the study:
The study was widely covered in the regional media. Some of the links to the media clippings has been provided below.
Impact: While the report got widely publicized the paint manufacturers came forward with a promise to phase-out lead from decorative household paints. Most importantly, the Bureau of Indian Standards responded with draft notification on lead standards for all the categories of paints used for the household and decorative purposes. For most of the paints the maximum lead limit has been proposed to be set at 90ppm, which is the current global best practice. A few of the paints to have 300ppm lead limit for technical reasons. BIS’s various drafts for lead in paints is open for public comment and can be downloaded from the BIS web page - http://www.bis.org.in/sf/wcdraft.asp
Toxics Link partners in the Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are working with the respective ministries there to press for similar action.
E-waste has emerged as a critical waste issue globally, with the growing quantity of waste and the problems arising out of its toxic nature. With economic impetus and steady growth over the years, South Asia is an emerging region for the increased consumption for electronic and electrical goods. However this consumption pattern also poses challenges in terms of waste generated which needs to be tackled in a much different way than other kinds of waste streams because of the fact that e-waste intrinsically contain in them various toxic metals and chemicals. Since the infrastructure and the regulation for governing such waste is thoroughly insufficient in this region, the challenges are multidimensional.
The major challenges for the region are the amount of waste generated, insignificant infrastructure to deal with the waste, lack of proper understanding and awareness about the issue, huge informal sector that handles the waste with most primitive practices, illegal dumping and trade etc. There is quite a mammoth health risk associated with the current e-waste management practices.
Toxics Link efforts in India in this regard have resulted in the formulation of a new law on e-waste management and handling. In India Toxic Link’s current engagements are focused on getting the rules implemented in their spirit.
In other South Asian countries however, the issues is relatively new and Toxics Link along with partners is engaged in creating awareness about the issue, conduct baseline studies, organize stakeholders meetings and publish information materials/ reports.
In Bangladesh, a study on Informal Sector was conducted focusing on the recycling business. A report titled ‘Informal Sector E-waste Recycling Practices In Bangladesh’ was published in this regard (link provided below).
Another interesting study being carried out in Bangladesh, is to study the trans-boundary movement of hazardous. The study would cover illegal imports / dumping of e-waste, trade issues, and recycling practices related to these items.
By the end of the year Toxics Link is also going to bring out a comprehensive report on e-waste status in South Asia.
In the last couple of years, Toxics Link’s healthcare campaign has been able to create greater awareness in the region, especially regarding the use and phase-out of mercury in clinical instruments and environment friendly management of bio-medical waste stream. Several workshops and meetings were conducted in the region and we have been able to create critical baseline information on the issue.
Currently in Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, Toxics Link partners are engaged in creating model hospitals (for mercury free and state of art Bio-medical waste management) and documenting current practices on mercury and bio-medical waste management at the national scale. A few stakeholders meetings are also planned in the region.
Environment education has been envisaged as a crucial engagement for creating informed citizen. This time around Toxics Link thought of engaging with schools in the region to created understanding and awareness among young ones about the issue of chemical management. A total of 60 schools (20 each in Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh) are being covered. This also includes nursing schools. The issues of pesticides, chemicals, waste and heavy metal pollution and management are being taken up in these schools.
The school awareness programme has activities such as lectures, trips, competitions, dramatics and workshops. The aim is to raise the understanding and awareness among children and teachers.
A few glimpses can be seen from the photographs provided below.
School Campaign on Chemicals Safety in Nepal and Bangladesh
A Regional Consultative Workshop on SAARC Pesticide Information Sharing Network (SPINet) was organised by the SAARC Agriculture Centre on 30 June-1 July 2011 at In-service Training Institute, Peradeniya, Sri Lanka. Seven Focal Point Scientists from Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Pakistan and Sri Lanka participated in the Workshop. The Workshop was organised in collaboration with the Department of Agriculture, Peradeniya, Sri Lanka to discuss the matters pertaining to pesticides and their use in the Regional Countries. The objectives of the consultation were to:
Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Sri Lanka was the chief guest of the Inaugural session of the workshop. Additional Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Director General of Agriculture, Dean, Faculty of Agriculture University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka and Director SAARC Agriculture Center, were among the distinguish gathering graced the occasion.
Apart from Scientists, about 30 local participants representing public, private and academic Institutions also participated in the Workshop. During the two days consultation country compilations were discussed at length and consensus was reached for future activities under three themes i.e., Collaborative activities, Knowledge and work sharing and operational modalities for network. Some of the recommendations drawn and agreed by the participants under each theme are given below.
The release, distribution and degradation of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) into the environment are highly dependent on environmental conditions, among which climate change and increasing climate variability have the potential to affect POPs contamination via changes in emission sources, transport processes and pathways, and routes of degradation.
The first GMP global monitoring report published in 2009 recognized the importance of climate effects on POPs and stressed the need to consider possible climate effects when interpreting temporal trend data for POPs in GMP core media. Complex climate effects on the transport and partitioning of POPs have the potential to significantly complicate the interpretation of measurements of POPs in environmental media in future evaluations of the effectiveness of the Stockholm Convention.
To support informed decision-making, the Secretariat of the Stockholm Convention, in collaboration with the Arctic Council’s Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP) invited a number of distinguished experts to review the most recent scientific findings on climate change effects on persistent organic pollutants within a global perspective. The report of the UNEP/AMAP expert group, ‘’Climate change and POPs: Predicting the Impacts’’, provides a comprehensive view of the complex inter-linkages between climate and POPs.
Significant climate-induced changes are foreseen in relation to future releases of POPs into the environment, their long-range transport and environmental fate, and human and environmental exposure, subsequently leading to higher health risks for both human populations and the environment. The report also addresses the synergies between the climate change and POPs policy agendas and identifies areas of uncertainty and existing gaps in data, information and knowledge.
Biodiversity Persistence and Climate Change in Bhutan: Biological diversity is vitally important for every sphere of human existence and provides us with a vast range of products and services ranging from the food we eat, clean water, fuel and construction materials to fertile soils, and healing plants for medicines and not least, the clean air we breathe (Kus et al, 2010, MEA, 2005). Biodiversity also plays a significant role in mitigating and adapting the impacts of climate change. Intact ecosystems such as forests and peat lands sequester carbon in their vegetation and soil thus supporting climate-regulating functions worldwide (Carlson et al, 2010).
The government plans to amend the Pesticide Control Act, which was introduced in 1980.
Agriculture Minister Mahinda Yapa Abeywardane said that the Pesticides Control Act No. 33 was 30 years old and thereby using old technologies monitors the contents of pesticides. Therefore, to find solutions to pesticide-related problems, the government had decided to amend the Act, he said.
He said that arsenic in locally produced rice had become a hot topic in the country. "Arsenic is not a big issue for a country like Sri Lanka as we have clever scientists."
If scientists prove that pesticides carry arsenic elements, action would be taken against the importers, Abeywardane said.
"This arsenic problem can become a national issue and will affect agricultural productivity and the national economy to a great extent," he added
In addition, every chemical packing includes a color band, which is used to determine the toxicity of the chemicals. If there is a chemical with a red band, it means that it is of high toxicity. Also, all pesticide consignments imported to Sri Lanka are tested by the Registrar of Pesticides for active ingredients and stability of chemicals, he said.
The Ministry of Environment launched the National Green Reporting System of Sri Lanka on Friday to enhance the environmental, social and economical performance of industry and service sectors of the country. "This intern will facilitate industries and services of the country to improve their corporate sustainability performance and stay in the global and local competitive market systems," Environment Minister Anura Priyadarshana Yapa said addressing the gathering at the launching ceremony.
"It has become necessary of doing business transforming end-of-pipe line solutions to pollution prevention and reduction and minimization of resource degradation," Minister Yapa said.
The ceremony was held at the Water's Edge Hotel in Battaramulla with the participation of top personnel from both government and private sectors. Power and Energy Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka, Deputy Minister of Environment Abdul Cader and several other distinguished guests were present. The book on 'Reporting Guidelines' was launched at the ceremony.
"This reporting system was initiated by the Ministry in line with the requirement set out under the policy for greening the industries as per the National Action Plan for Green Lanka Program launched in 2009," said Padmini Batuwitage, Additional Secretary (Environment and Policy) of the Ministry of Environment.
According to Batuwitage the initial draft guidelines were developed with the technical assistance of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce through SWITCH-Asia program funded by the European Union.
Green activists at a seminar on Tuesday strongly criticized the role of the Ministry of Environment and Forests due to its negligence in protecting the country’s environment and forests.
They said that in fact, the Ministry of Environment and Forests is engaged in taking projects, going abroad and acquiring forests resources.
Paribesh Bachao Andolan (PBA), an environmental organization, arranged the seminar at the National Press Club in the capital this (Tuesday) morning.
by PBA chairman Abu Naser Khan, the seminar was addressed, among others,
by Mujibul Haque MP, former member of Planning Commission Prof Mamtazuddin
Ahmed, chairman of Zoology Department at Dhaka University Prof Nurjahan
Sarkar and poet Lily Haque.
said that environmental stewardship is always ignored in the ‘Allocation
of Business’ and the ‘Rules of Business’ of different
ministries and the Ministry of Environment and Forests does not
They urged the government to rename ‘Environment Management Ministry’ instead of the Ministry of Environment and Forests with a view to protecting the country’s environment and forests.
Former secretary Sohel Ahmed Chowdhury read out a keynote paper on ‘Environment Management: the Role of Ministry and Social Audit’ at the seminar.
A mobile court of the Department of Environment (DoE) on Tuesday recovered 2,631 kg of banned polythene bags from six shops and fined them Tk 4.5 lakh at Nama Bazaar in Savar municipality. The mobile court along with officials of DoE, Rab and police raided the bazaar and recovered 100 kg of polythene bags from Gopal's shop, 781 kg from Bhai-Bhai Traders, 350 kg from Provat Shaha Store, 600 kg each from Bipul Store and Haji Store and 200 kg from shop owner Biplob Pal. Later, the mobile court led by executive magistrate M Kamruzzaman fined Gopal Tk 50,000, Bhai-Bhai Traders Tk 1.50 lakh, Provat Shaha Store Tk one lakh, Bipul Store Tk 50,000, Haji store Tk 50,000 and Biplob Pal Tk 50,000.
Demonstrators from a human chain on Friday called for taking stern action against the business of adulterated and poisonous foods that were sickening and killing innocent consumers.
Business in chemically poisoned foods and fruits has not stopped despite anti-adulteration drives of the government, the demonstrators alleged.
The human chain was organised by Save the Environment Movement in front of Fine Arts Institutes at Shabagh in the city.
They pointed out that packed and processed foods, both liquid and solid, fishes, vegetables and all kinds of fruits available in the market contained dangerous amount of chemicals such as formalin, calcium carbide, copper sulphate etc. which are hazardous for the human health.
The said such adulterated foods and fruits were like slow poisons, particularly for children and pregnant women.
For the sake of public health, the government should take immediate steps against such foods. ‘Otherwise we will become a crippled nation soon,’ one of the organisers of the human chain said.
Speaking on the occasion, SME chairperson Abu Naser Khan said that such poisonous food was an important reason behind a rising incidence of deadly diseases like cancer, asthma and non- functioning of liver.
He demanded establishment of a commission which would ensure the quality of foods. The commission could also play a vital role in ensuring exemplary punishment for dealing in poisonous and chemically processed foods.
SME secretary Aslam Khan, media coordinator Syed Ashraf Afroj, programme officer Atik Morshed, Green Mind president Amir Hasan, Bangladesh Nagorik Somaj general secretary Pitar Haldar and several leaders of environment rights organisations also addressed from the human chain.
The Department of Environment (DoE) yesterday fined a dyeing factory in Kashimpur under Gazipur Tk 13.44 lakh for releasing untreated chemical effluents into the Turag river.
A DoE team, led by director (Enforcement) Mohammad Munir Chowdhury, in a drive on June 16 found the Cotton Club (BD) Ltd's effluent treatment plant (ETP) totally closed, according to a DoE press release.
The DoE officials tested liquid effluent of the factory on the spot and found the level of dissolved oxygen in it was far lower than the standard level.
The enforcement team also found that a total of seven metric tonnes of knit fabrics are dyed at the factory every day.
The factory officials confessed to polluting the river by releasing untreated toxic chemical effluents, said the press release.
The team penalised yesterday its officials for destroying environment and ecology of the Turag river.
The DoE officials set July 31 as the deadline for the factory to install a functional ETP. Otherwise, utility connections to it will be snapped, said the release.
This is for the general information to the public that washing and cleaning of clothes/vehicles and dumping of any kinds of wastes by the riverbanks or into any water bodies are prohibited under the Waste Prevention and Management Act of Bhutan 2009 and National Environment Protection Act of Bhutan 2007.
Therefore, everyone is informed to stop carrying out these activities. Henceforth, anyone found violating these Acts shall be liable for both civil and criminal penalties.
Bhutan’s forestry policy has been short-listed, with six others, for the Future Policy Award, which celebrates the most inspiring, innovative and influential forest policies worldwide.
The award is granted by the World Future Council, an international policy research organisation that provides decision makers with policy solutions.
Bhutan’s forestry policy is based on article 5 on environment in the Constitution of Bhutan, which states that Bhutan must maintain a forest coverage of a minimum of 60 percent for all times to come.
Bhutan is in the running with policies from Gambia, Rwanda, Nepal, Switzerland and the USA. The three winning policies, which effectively contribute to the conservation and sustainable development of forests for the benefit of current and future generations, will be announced on September 21 this year at the United Nations headquarters in New York.
This year’s theme is “Forests for People”, to raise awareness of the multiple value of forests, and highlight success stories and challenges faced by many of the world’s forests and the people, who depend on them.
The announcement will be followed by an awards ceremony hosted by the World Future
Council, the United Nations forum on forests secretariat, UN convention on biological diversity, the food and agricultural organization, and the wildlife conservation society.
“With the award, we want to cast a spotlight on policies that lead by example,” says World Future Council director, Alexandra Wandel. “The aim is to raise global awareness of visionary policies and speed up policy action in the interest of present and future generations.”
Twenty forest policies from 16 countries were nominated for the future policy awards. The jury is composed of experts on sustainability and forests from all five continents. In 2010, the international year on biodiversity, the award went to Costa Rica’s biodiversity law of 1998.
The Changunarayan Temple, which is enlisted in the World Heritage Sites List, is at high risk after landslides occurred on the east and west sides of the temple on Wednesday following incessant rains, RSS reports.
According to the priest at the Temple, Chakradharanand Rajopadhyaya, the landslide has reached near Chandra Surya shrine on the west side of the Temple.
Rajopadhayaya complained that no bodies concerned have shown any interest to protect the Temple when it is at high risk of landslide.
Locals told RSS this situation came about with the failure of the local administration to stop the rampant mining of sand and stones from the Manohara stream going on since long.
At first, sand smuggling at the Manohara stream should be stopped to save the Temple from the risk of landslide, said Rajopadhayaya.
Aruna Nakarmi, Chief of the Department of Archeology and Palace Management Office, Bhaktapur, said they have been informed of the landslide and they would inspect the area on Friday.
Central Office of the Department of Archeology has asked its local office to submit a report on the extent of the damage to the Temple structure caused, which they will submit after monitoring the area, said Nakarmi.
In order to mark the World Environment Day on June 5, groups run by people with disabilities (PWDs) organised a cleaning programme at Jorpati on S aturday morning.
About 40 people with disabilities, along with 12 helpers, cleaned the street in Jorpati. The programme was organised jointly by Asthabakra Saving and Credit Cooperative Limited, Spinal Cord Injury Khelkud Sangh, Balbalika ko Lagi Pariwarik Herchaha Bidhyalaya and Khagendra Nawa Jiwan Kendra with the theme “Let us keep our surroundings cleaner and healthier by managing garbage in a proper way”.
Sarswati Chaulagain, the cooperative treasurer, said they want to make people, through this effort, learn that PWDs are also concerned about sanitation and hygienic environment.
Environmental activists broke into an Australian government research farm Thursday and destroyed an experimental crop of genetically-modified wheat in protest at the project's safety.
Armed with weed trimmers, three Greenpeace activists scaled a fence at the Canberra facility in the early hours of the morning and razed the crop, which had been modified to lower its glycemic index.
The government science agency running the trials, CSIRO, confirmed there had been "a break-in overnight at their crop trial site" and it was assessing the damage.
"The police, and the government's gene technology regulatory authority ... have been informed and are inspecting the site," a CSIRO spokesman told AFP.
"CSIRO is currently assessing the damage to the trial crops and considering next steps."
Greenpeace said the activists, three women, wore hazardous materials suits to keep them from carrying GM organisms out of the site, and were motivated by concerns about the trial's safety.
"We had no choice but to take action to bring an end to this experiment," said campaigner Laura Kelly.
"GM has never been proven safe to eat and once released in open experiments, it will contaminate. This is about the protection of our health, the protection of our environment and the protection of our daily bread."
The country’s first and model wind energy development project established to light up villages has itself trapped in the shadow of neglect.
Twenty-five years passed since the project was set up in Kagbeni of Mustang district, but it is about to turn into ruins now, thanks to utter indifference by authorities concerned.
Established in 2042 BS with the support from foreign donors and an investment of around Rs 10 million, the 20-KW wind energy centre was shut down within two months of operation after pillars of its wall crumbled and two fans were destroyed by high wind blowing from the north.
The previous government way back had appointed eight staff under the leadership of engineer Bhola Shrestha to smoothly run the project. However, not a single employee are there now.
While many instruments worth millions of ruppes were stolen, some of them have been broken. Local residents have been demanding that the wild energy project be repaired.
Studies have shown Mustang has high potential in generating wind power that is beneficial in many ways—conserving environment and forest by reducing carbon emissions and providing electricity at the same time.
The ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) has buckled under the pressure from the local recycling industry to allow toxic waste to be imported to India.
The e-waste draft released in May 2010 by the MoEF had specifically banned the “import” of toxic waste. But MoEF’s notification in May 2011 makes no mention of the imports which carry toxic constituents like lead, mercury, cadmium and BFRs.
The volumes of waste being dumped in India shows a rising trend with the experts pointing out that the earlier estimates of 50,000 MT per annum have already doubled and will increase further. E–waste is not 100 per cent recyclable and its hazardous remains will cause tremendous environmental damage, health experts point out.
Aggarwal of Toxic Alliance warns, “This sudden shift in framing
of rules is likely to have disastrous consequences and will only fuel
more such waste being dumped into the country.”
which was another favourite dumping ground for e-waste banned e-waste
imports in 2002.
A year after the Delhi government issued a stricture to ban the use of mercury-based instruments in hospitals, as much as 90 kg of the liquid metal has been sold by over 60 hospitals.
This was possible after the Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC) emerged with a unique plan to recycle unused mercury from the city’s hospitals by selling it back to private manufacturers.
In 2010, the DPCC directed hospitals with 50 beds or more to minimise the use of mercury and eventually stop using mercury-based instruments.
“More than 60 hospitals are already mercury-free. And, hospitals that have not phased it out, have at least stopped buying new mercury-based instruments. Delhi is probably the only state in the country that will soon be completely mercury-free,” said a senior official of DPCC.
The three major sources of mercury in hospitals are thermometers, blood pressure instruments and dental amalgam fillings.
According to Dr T K Joshi of the Centre for Occupational and Environmental Health at the Maulana Azad Medical Centre, the step to phase out mercury was taken because several of Delhi’s hospitals had no idea how to deal with mercury spillage when instruments broke.
“A lot of it just went into general waste, which was incinerated. Due to this, mercury can become air-borne, which is dangerous. Even a momentary exposure to mercury fumes can be very damaging, especially to pregnant mothers and the unborn child. It is even more dangerous if mercury gets into the water supply,” Dr Joshi said.
A study conducted by Delhi-based NGO ‘Toxics Link’ in 2007 found that nearly 70 thermometer breakages take place each month in a 300 to 500 bedded hospital. The study also indicated that levels of air-borne mercury in these hospitals was 4 to 12 times higher than the accepted American standard. A similar study, conducted by Dr Joshi, will be submitted to DPCC soon.
“We found that levels of air-borne mercury in some places is still higher than the accepted norm. Also, there is very little awareness on the part of healthcare workers on spillage and toxicity of mercury,” he said.
Anita Industries, a firm that manufactures the mercury-based equipment, is one of the two firms that has bought nearly 50 kg of mercury from hospitals in Delhi over the past year.
“One can get about 75 grams of mercury from BP instruments. Some hospitals give us loose mercury that they have removed from the instruments. We purify it and then manufacture our own BP instruments. We sell these to dealers in other parts of the country and even export it, since Delhi is the only state where mercury has been banned,” said Sandeep Kalra, of Anita Industries.
The move, however, has not been welcomed by all doctors, as they do not trust the reading of digital or aneroid instruments. Cost and longevity of the alternative instruments is also a niggling factor for hospitals.
Authorities at Chacha Nehru Bal Chikitsalaya said while the hospital has completely phased out mercury, purchase of other instruments will take time.
“High-end digital blood pressure machines are hard to find and are very expensive. But, after testing a few brands we have acquired some reliable machines that are not too expensive. The problem is that frequent calibration is required and this adds to the cost,” said Dr K M Kalra, Medical Superintendent of the hospital.
“Project reduced to a scheme that doles out free meals, subsidized foodgrains”
The Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council (NAC) may not have officially commented on the Union Government's draft Food Security Bill which is still to be cleared by the Union Cabinet, but many NAC members see the changes made in their version of the Bill as having “severely compromised the overall vision” of the Council, reducing the food security project to “a scheme that doles out free meals and subsidised foodgrains”.
NAC sources said that while the Council, as a body, saw its job done with the handing over of its draft Bill to the government, they were, nevertheless, waiting to see how the government Bill was received after it is introduced in Parliament and then sent to a Standing Committee. At that stage, these sources said, those NAC members who are also members of the Right to Food Campaign intend to use that platform to lobby MPs. Harsh Mander, who had headed the Working Group that drafted the NAC's Food Security Bill pointed out that in the run-up to the enactment of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act and the Right to Information Act, during the United Progressive Alliance's first tenure, there were similar problems.
But, interestingly, the government draft scores over the NAC's recommendations in one section. So while the government has rejected the NAC's recommendations for households headed by single women, who the Council stresses are “often the most vulnerable and impoverished,” in its Chapter V11, titled “Women Empowerment,” the government Bill says that women of 18 years of age or above will, in all priority and general households, be “deemed to be head of the household for the purpose of distribution of ration cards.”
The NAC's disappointment, however, revolves round two key issues. One, the government draft does not just reduce the percentage of rural households to be covered, from the NAC's suggested figure of 90 per cent to the government's 75 per cent, it has slashed entitlements for general households, from four kg of foodgrains to 3 kg per person, while saying that the Central Government can modify or amend the essential entitlements by a notification: the NAC had mandated that the rates for priority households would not be revised upward for at least 10 years from the date of notification of the Act.
Two, the government draft ignores the NAC's “life cycle approach,” omitting its provisions for maternity benefits of Rs. 1,000 per month for a period of six months, dropping the special provisions for malnutritioned children, and watering down the rights suggested in the NAC draft for those living under conditions of starvation.
The NAC had suggested several measures to reform the existing Public Distribution System, as it felt that unless the new legislation provides a comprehensive and reformatory framework, the key entitlements under this Act cannot be realised. These don't find a place in the government draft, just as the internal grievance redressal mechanism, suggested by the NAC, has been rejected by the government on the grounds that the current redressal mechanism at the district, State and national levels are adequate. The provisions for dereliction of duty and penalties have also been dropped from the government draft, and it has introduced the concept of cash transfers, anathema to the NAC.
Finally, the government draft, invoking the principle of force majeure, says that claims by persons belonging to priority and general households will not have the right to claim compensation for failure of supply of foodgrains in case of war, flood, drought, fire, cyclone, earthquake or any act of God.
India has agreed to phase out pesticide endosulfan. At the Geneva meet of the Stockholm Convention, currently underway, India's concern for the need to identify cost-effective and safe alternatives were accepted.
This means endosulfan will be listed in Annexe A of the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants but exemptions will allowed for crop-pest combinations. It will allow India to continue to use this broad-spectrum pesticide.
Chemicals listed in the Annex A of the Convention are banned for production and use due to the threat they pose to living beings, particularly the environment.