Laws fail to stem traffic in waste

PUBLISHED : Friday, 19 July, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 19 July, 1996, 12:00am

Legal moves to clamp down on the enormous amount of waste being smuggled into India are unenforceable, officials say.

Although environmentalists have welcomed a recent court order banning the import of toxic waste, Environment Ministry officials in New Delhi say they have neither the manpower nor the infrastructure to enforce the ban, as profits from recycling toxic waste are high and few are aware of the long-term consequences.

In his ruling, the New Delhi High Court judge said India must cease to be a toxic 'dumping ground' for Western countries.

And, although the environmental group Greenpeace described the ban as progressive, making India the first Asian country to halt the import of toxic waste, authorities claim it is almost impossible to monitor or regulate borders against the influx of harmful materials.

Over the past two years, for example, nearly 150 Indian companies imported about 73,000 tonnes of toxic zinc, lead ash and other environmentally harmful waste from 49 countries.

Plastic bags and bottles, used car batteries, lead and other metal scrap and, some environmentalists claim, even radioactive waste came to India from Australia, America, Britain and Canada. Toxics Link, a voluntary Indian group, said these materials have been recycled in crude facilities. In thousands of illegal factories across India and neighbouring countries workers, often children, earn as little as 10 rupees (HK$2) a day working in appalling conditions to recycle plastic bags by melting them down and making them into toys, bottles and buckets.

Bare-handed labourers also take old batteries apart in violation of government safety measures, leading to a high incidence of skin disorders, often leading to cancer.

But officials were highly sceptical about the Government being able to close down such factories as they provide employment, however harmful, to millions.