image The E-Graveyards of India

It is 11 in the morning, sun rays light up his face as he looks at the passing trains. The honking and the vibrations in the track disturb him till the train passes. He does not remember how many trains have passed from the time he started working. Mohammad Israel is picking up the pieces of copper wire that spill from his bucket. His hands appear golden.

“I have been doing this for the last three months,” he says.

He removes the rubber covering of the wires after burning them, which is how he makes a living. He is amongst the hundreds of workers decomposing e-waste in the lanes of Seelampur in Delhi. The shop he works in is filled with discarded wires. The lanes are dotted with heaps of discarded computer monitors, phones, motherboards, Cathode Ray Tubes, air conditioners, refrigerators, chargers, keyboards etc.

According to ASSOCHAM, India generates nearly 1.7 to three million tonne of e- waste annually and approximately 90% of it is processed in the informal sector. Primarily because the current infrastructure in place can not handle such huge amounts. The reach of the informal sector compensates for that inability.

“There is lack of awareness among citizens and even companies prefer to dump their e-waste through informal sector as they give more money” says Priti Mahesh, Senior Programme Coordinator at Toxics Link.

The amount of e-waste generated is set to increase in the coming years. Increased dependence on technology, planned obsolescence and lowering prices are the likely reasons. In the coming years, technology is going to have more influence in our daily lives, so increased amount of e-waste will be generated. Even with push to digital economy, e-waste generation would enormously increase.

As on 14-10-2015, there were 149 registered e-waste dismantlers/recyclers in the with the total capacity of 461059 metric tonne per annum. Which is not enough considering the increasing generation of e-waste.

A survey by Toxics Link found that majority of the respondents dispose of their e-waste through the kabadiwala, which makes the entire process within the informal sector. Low awareness levels among citizens about the disposal of e-waste is also attributed to rising level of e-waste reaching shops like the one Mohammad Israel works in.

New e-waste management rules came into force from October 1, 2016 and according to these rules a consumer has to ensure “ e-waste generated by them is channelised through collection centre or dealer of authorised producer or dismantler or recycler or through the designated take back service provider of the producer to authorised dismantler or recycler”. Under the rules, producers have to ensure collection of discarded products and their proper channelization to an authorized dismantler or recycler.

Studies carried out by Toxics Link in Mandoli and Loni areas of Delhi found the presence of heavy metals in the soil and this is attributed to the activities related to e-waste carried out in the areas. The water in the stream that runs through the Seelampur locality is black, with a terrible acrid smell.

“I earn 8000 per month, which is not enough for living here in Delhi” says a coughing Kamal Sharma as he removes iron rods from the dismantled ACs. The heap of silver foils take most of the space in the dimly lit shop he works in. He along with his co- workers work from 9 am to 6 pm.

E-waste contains many toxic elements such as lead, mercury, cadmium, selenium and arsenic. Workers in the units are unaware of the health hazards of working in the units or if they know they prefer to do it because of better salaries.

“There is no awareness about the operational hazards of working in these units” says Priti Mahesh.

Workers mostly from UP, Bihar and Jharkhand, work on a monthly salary of Rupees 8000 to 10,000. While others working on a day to day basis earn Rupees 200 to 300 like Mohammad Israel.

In Mustafaabad area, few children are burning the discarded wires at the waste dump, their faces invisible behind the smoke. They get few rupees for the collected metal from the e-waste processing shops in the locality. The lanes are similar to the Seelampur locality.

No e-waste recycling unit has a necessary certificate from the Delhi Pollution Control Board. Owners fear that getting one will increase costs and they will have to put precautionary measures for the workers.

The story was published by The Citizen on 16/4/2017. Can be seen here

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