Increase use of electronic and electronic equipment coupled with increase in
population and changing consumption pattern is generating waste at an alarming
rate in India. This is due to the advancement or development in technology.
These developments in the modern times have led to manifestation of problem's
which include the problem of massive amount of hazardous waste and other waste
generated form electric products.
These hazardous wastes pose a huge threat to
the human health and to the already depleting environment. The threat to the
environment is in rise as the process of recycling of E-waste in India is done
by the unorganized sectors who do not have the required technology to handle and
curb the electronic waste, even with the toxics removed recycling will cause
impact in the environment due to the emission while extracting valuables
The main reason for the accumulation of E-waste:
Generally, the electronic waste are categorized into three types:
- Advancement in technology
- Change in fashion style and status
- Nearing the end of their useful life
- White goods: household appliances
- Brown goods: TV’s, camcorders, cameras
- Grey goods: computers, printer, fax machine, scanner etc.
The grey goods are is more toxic as compared to the white and brown goods. This
kind of waste is posing a serious challenge in disposal and recycling both
developed and developing counties. For example a computer contains different
types of elements and compositions such as metals as well as hazardous materials
like mercury, lead, and flame retardants.
Apart from this they also contain
sophisticated bled of plastics which causes a grave damage to the environment
due to their no decay nature which contaminates the soil , water which leads to
release of toxic gases like dioxin and furan's.
According to a report of Confederation of Indian Industries, the total waste
generated by electronic and electrical equipment in India has been estimated to
be 1, 46,000 tons per year .
Evolution Of Laws In E-Waste
This issue remained overlooked for a very long time until very recently, no
proper laws, provision or conferences by the countries to curb the electronic
waste The first development at International level emerged at 1989 when The
Basel Convention came into existence, the purpose of which was to reduce the
movements of hazardous waste between nations and specifically to prevent
transfer of hazardous waste from developed to less developed countries.
Convention also ensures environmentally sound management of toxic and hazardous
waste. Basel Convention had an indirect application on electronic waste due
to the presence of toxic and hazardous materials . The Basel Convention started
to focus more on e-waste issues in 2002. After which the Nairobi Declaration was
adopted which gave a mandate to the Secretariat to implement the environmentally
sound management of e-waste. At national level, the Environment Protection Act
came into being in 1986 for protection and improvement of the environment and
the prevention of hazards to human beings, other living creatures, plants and
property in the wake of Bhopal Gas Tragedy.
This Act being umbrella
legislation dealt indirectly with e-waste as it deals with hazardous substance.
Soon after that, the first comprehensive Rules to deal with hazardous wastes
were issued by the Central Government, in July 1989, called the Hazardous Waste
Management and Handling Rules 1989, framed under the enabling provisions of EPA,
1986. However, the 1989 Rules suffered from certain inherent limitations.
Therefore, the rules have been amended later in the years 2000, 2003 and with
final notification of the Hazardous Waste Management, Handling and Tran’s
boundary Movement Rules, 2008.
Ministry of Environment, forests and Climate Change, for the first time,
notified a set of rules known as Electronic waste management and handling Rules
in 2011 under section 6 of Environment Protection Act, 1986.These rules were
transported in to tackle the safe and environment friendly management,
transporting, storing, recycling of e-waste and also to diminish the usage of
hazardous substances during manufacturing of electrical and electronic
E-waste rules were later revised in 2016 and became E waste
management Rules, 2016. For the first time, the concept of ‘Extended Producer
Responsibility EPR was also introduced which made manufacturers liable for safe
disposal of electronic goods. The E-Waste Management Rules, 2016 have lately
been modified by the Centre through notification dated 22nd March, 2018 to
expedite effective implementation of the environmentally sound management of
e-waste and it also amended the collection targets under EPR provision.
Impact Of Electroinc Waste
It is highly imperative that e-waste gets recycled in a safe, appropriate, and
efficient manner in the developed country. Conversely, the scenario in most
developing countries like India is quite unsettling. The reasons for this
situation is poor infrastructure, lack of awareness and ineffective
implementation of legislation, as a very small percentage of the total e-waste
generated gets recycled in India. Most of the electronic waste is being sold as
scrap and is further smashed, dismantled and recycled by the informal sector.
Currently, a majority of e-waste in India is being managed by the large
organized informal sector which does not have the adequate means or awareness to
deal with E-Waste appropriately. Informal sector indulges essentially in manual
dismantling where they end up in open burning to recover precious materials used
in E-waste, and open dumping of residual Therefore, this in turn leads to
ineffective e-waste management which actually causes huge damage to the
environment as well as human health.
It has been reported that about 95 percent of electronic waste in India is
treated and processed in urban slums, where untrained workers carry out
practices unsafe for human and environmental health as it results in the
pollution of the land, air, and water. Seelampur is the largest informal sector
of e-waste dismantling in India.
Mandoli, a region near Delhi is a similar place
where e-waste burning takes place. Accidental leakages and evaporation of these
substances occur at the electronic wastes dumping sites. As a result, most of
these salvageable materials escape into the soil, polluting big areas of lands
and making them unhealthy for farming. Moreover, metals such as mercury, cadmium
and lead, which are usually discovered in device circuit boards, may percolate
into groundwater, triggering devastating health issues.
It has been reported by the Centre for Occupational and Environmental Health at
Maulana Azad Medical College in New Delhi that extreme level of lead, mercury
and chromium is discovered in the bodies of these recyclers and dismantlers.
This subsequently has a bearing on their bodies and results in damage to the
respiratory, urinary and digestive systems. It also damages the immune system
and have been associated to certain kinds of cancer. Therefore, the need of the
hour is proper handling of electronic wastes to avert human suffering and in the
foreseeable future, the long-term degradation of our environment and ecosystem
is averted as well.
Almitra H. Patel v. Union of India
Almitra H. Patel filed a PIL on poor status of Delhi in respect to pollution on
the authorities responsible for pollution control and environment protection who
have failed in providing clean and healthy environment to the residents of
Delhi. This case emphasized the importance of waste management which led to the
formation of country’s first Municipal Solid Waste (Management and Handling)
Rules 2000, issued under the Environment Protection Act, 1986.
Legal Provisions Dealing With Electronic Waste
It is a well-known fact that the environmental quality is dwindling at a very
fast pace due to such informal, unplanned and untrained treatment of E-wastes
and as we discussed earlier, various reasons could be assigned for such
deterioration. But one significant cause for such environmental degradation due
to E-wastes is the inability of the law to deter violators. In many countries
there are now legislations and statutes in place specifically to deter such
In India also many environmental legislations and the rules are there
which are dealing with E-waste either directly or indirectly. Such legislations
have not resulted in preventing environmental de gradation as penal provisions
in environmental laws dealing with electronic wastes are weak, lenient, hard to
impose, and unlikely to affect . The situation is aggravated by other problems
like slow justice delivery system, poor monitoring and enforcement capacity of
regulators, and lack of comprehensive databases to evidence violations, among
There are various legislations/rules dealing with E-wastes in environmental laws
either directly and indirectly, to name a few are:
- Electronic waste (management) rules, 2011 and Electronic waste
(management) Amendment rules, 2018
- Hazardous and Other Wastes (Management and Tran’s boundary Movement)
- The Environment (Protection) Act, 1986
- The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981
- The Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974
The most important legislation directly dealing with electronic waste is the
Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 in which three penal provisions are given
under section 15, 16 and 17. The Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 is an
umbrella act and E waste rules are the product of EPA only.
provisions of EPA directly apply to the E waste rules as well. In fact, section
15 clearly mentions that it provides for the contravention of the provisions of
the Act, rules, orders and even directions passed under EPA. Section 15 deals
with the liability of individuals, section 16 created the liability of the
companies and section 17 creates liabilities on government departments.
first important penal provision to deal with the electronic waste is section 15,
which prescribes for imprisonment for a term which may extent to five years or
with fine which may extend to one lakh rupees, or with both. In case of failure,
additional fine can be imposed up to five thousand rupees.
Other legislations dealing with E-wastes indirectly are the Air (Prevention and
Control of Pollution) Act, 1981 and the Water (Prevention and Control of
Pollution) Act, 1974. The Air Act consists of five penal provisions which are
section 37, 38, 39, 40 and 41 and along with these provisions section 21, 22 and
31A are of immense importance.
Section 37, 38 and 39 deals with individual
liability and seeks to punish a person who fails to comply with the provisions
of section 21 and 22 of the Act and directions issued under section 31A of the
Act. Section 40 is meant to create liability on the part of the companies and
section 41 is meant to create liability of the government departments.
Similarly, the Water Act has seven penal provisions and they are section 41, 42,
43, 44, 45 A, 47 and 48 and along with these provisions, section 20(2), 20 (3),
24, 26, 32(1)(c), 33(2) and 33 A are important too as they are made the basis of
several offences under the Act. These provisions have an implied application as
improper dismantling and recycling of the electronic wastes result in the
contamination and pollution of the Air as well as Water.
MISHAB Section 37 of
the Air Act prescribes for an imprisonment for a term not less than one year and
six months but which may extend to six years and with fine, and an additional
fine which may extend to five thousand rupees in case of failure AND the maximum
punishment prescribed is two to seven years of imprisonment and fine, here in
comparison to EPA a minimum amount of punishment has been prescribed.
other hand, the situation is much worse with section 41 of the Water Act as it
prescribes for even lesser degree of punishment and penalty which says
imprisonment for a term which may extend to three months or with fine which may
extend to ten thousand rupees only. Section 37 of the Air Act, 1981 and section
41 of Water Act, 1974 are the most important penal provisions and are based on
the same footing as the provision relating to penalty has been provided in
section 15 of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.
Penal Provisions in IPC dealing with E-waste
IPC has various provisions dealing with offences related to pollution of
environment and some of these provisions can be applied to pollution by
electronic wastes also. For instance, sections 268, 269, 270, 277, 278, 284 and
290 deals with offences relating to public health and safety and are applicable
to E-wastes also to an extent.
Public Nuisance has been defined in section 268
A person is guilty of a public nuisance who does any act or is guilty of
illegal omission which causes any common injury, danger or annoyance to the
public or to the people in general who dwell or occupy property in the vicinity,
or which must necessarily cause injury, obstruction, danger, or annoyance to
persons who may have occasion to use any public right. Public nuisance covers
all types of pollutions such as pollution of land, water, air, noise pollution
etc. This provision could very well be applied to the pollution produced by open
burning and dumping of electronic waste and exposure of electronic waste to
toxic solders and acid baths.
Water pollution, section 277 provides that: whoever voluntarily corrupt or fouls
the water of any public spring or reservoir so as to render it less fit for the
purpose for which it is ordinarily used, shall be punished with simple or
rigorous imprisonment for a term extending to three months or fine of five
hundred rupees or with both.
Section 269 of I.P.C. The section says that whoever unlawfully or negligently
does any act which is, and which he knows or has reason to believe to be, likely
to spread the infection of any disease dangerous to life, shall be punished with
imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to six months, or
with fine, or with both. There are similar other sections as well which are
applicable to electronic waste.
Unlike environmental laws mentioned above these provisions state the element of
mens rea in a very clear and concise manner. Also, all these provisions are
cognizable which gives power to the police officers to take an action
voluntarily. It authorizes individuals also to file an FIR in case of violation
of any of the provision.
Yet, the number of complaints regarding environmental
issue filed under these provisions is very low like in environmental laws this
essentially indicates that environmental matters aren’t taken as seriously as
other offences are. Reasons behind this low rate of complaints are unawareness
about the law and impact on environment due to the weak side of these provisions
is that the penalty specified for the above cited infringements are too
inadequate considering to contemporary day enormous problem of environment
Are Indian Laws Effective In Curbing E-Waste?
When we look at sections that deal with E-waste, one would find various
ambiguities within these provisions. Firstly the penalty and punishment provided
in section 15 of EPA, 37 of the Air Act and 41 of the Water Act provides for is
neither stringent nor strict. Rather the penalty seems to be very lenient one
looking to present day gigantic problem of environment pollution. the
proportionality of the penalization in case of violation of this law should be
subjective in nature. It should be decided on a case to case basis keeping in
background the degrading impact that these informal recycling activities have on
This is also not in consonance with the “Polluter Pays Principle” of
International Environmental Law, which states that the polluter should pay in
proportion to the damage caused to the environment. The degree of discretion
given in all the penal provisions dealing with environmental degradation is also
one of loopholes that can be easily identified.
As the language of section 15 of
EPA only suggests that the imprisonment is extendable to five years or with fine
which may extend to one lakh rupees, is extremely discretionary. Section 16 and
17 of EPA also shows higher degree of discretions is in hands of judges as the
text of the legislation says that the offenders should be punished
accordingly. In all the penal provisions of EPA and Water Act no minimum
amount of punishment has been prescribed.
In Air Act minimum amount of
punishment has been prescribed but it is very less and rarely awarded. Secondly,
the terminologies used in the statutes are not clear in establishing the
culpability of a person as the penal provisions lack clarity in the
determination of mens rea which is important for courts for punishing a person.
For instance, provisions of EPA nowhere use clear terminology to imply the
degree of mens rea attached to a particular offence. Section 15 uses the term
“whoever fails to comply” only, which nowhere includes the terms like
intention/knowledge/negligence to indicate the degree of mens rea. Further,
section 16 (1) again isn’t clear with mens rea part and seems more like a strict
liability offence than a criminal conduct on a plain reading.
But the provision brings back the element of mens rea through the words without
his knowledge. Furthermore, section 17 again lacks clarity in the determination
of mens rea. Thirdly, the legislations prescribe no minimum amount of punishment
and use common phrase “shall be liable to be proceeded against and punished
This leaves a place for ambiguous interpretation as to decide
whether an offence is cognizable or non-cognizable. Fourthly The individual
victims of pollution and health hazards produced by mishandling of electronic
waste cannot file an FIR against the accused persons. Therefore, cognizance of
offence can only be taken by the central government or any authority or officer
authorized in this behalf by that Government.
In a case when an individual has to file a complaint, he has to give a notice of
not less than sixty days, in the manner prescribed, of the alleged offence and
of his intention to make a complaint, to the Central Government or the authority
or officer authorized. This makes the complaint mechanism complex and often
delayed due to lack of motivation among the concerned authorities.
pollution control boards which deal with air and water pollution were created
only in the 1970s. They do not have execution officers, to address grievances
and have no policing roles. They just issue permits. In most cases, the PCB’s
just issue a show-cause notice to the entities concerned, and do not register
cases with the magistrate. This is why the data does not represent the real
extent of such crimes.
Analysis of the rules dealing with E-wastes, few loopholes can be identified. To
start with, E-waste rules talks about only manufacturers, producers, collection
centers, dealers, refurbishes, recyclers, dismantlers and consumers. Further, it
provides for the mechanism of the collection and channelization of E-wastes
through these stakeholders and tries to enforce a duty upon them to recycle the
waste in an environmentally sound manner.
But at the same time, the rules
miserably defines the term “environmentally sound manner”. Moreover, the
rules don’t blatantly address the issue of recycling and dismantling done by the
informal sector which is recycling 90 percent of the electronic wastes. Further,
the rules put forth a mandate of seeking an authorization from the concerned
State Pollution Control Board for all the facilities to work and about extended
producer’s responsibility. 
Therefore, technically speaking these rules seem to cover only the formal sector
working for recycling of electronic waste. Though, in reality, formal sector
doesn’t really exist. The informal sector which actually exists and is doing
majorly all the work related to the recycling and dismantling of electronic
wastes is being ignored here.
There are no provisions delegating a duty upon the
State authorities to provide for proper infrastructures as well as awareness and
skill trainings to these informal sectors. Moreover, no penal provision or
penalty could be imposed on these unofficial and informal workers as they have
been ignored very conveniently the pollution control laws are effective but
still inconsistent in certain ways the major drawback of the E-waste
legislations are in the part of implementation which is inconsistent.
Nagrik Upbhogta Margdarshak Manch & Others vs. State of Madhya Pradesh & Others
The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has ordered all producers and manufacturers of
electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) in three states MP, Chhattisgarh and
Rajasthan for setting up collection centers and system of taking back discarded
electronic goods. The panel asked for setting aside 10% of advertising spend for
awareness among consumers about proper management and handling of e-waste in
The bench called for strict implementation of extended producer's
responsibility under e-waste Rules, 2011 whereby producers and manufactures
will be responsible for managing equipment after end of life once consumer
discards products and the tribunal also instructed the Manufactures to provide
contact details of authorized collection centre to consumers and create
awareness through publication, advertisement, posters and other means of
communication, about management of e-waste.
Besides, producers have to get
registered and obtain authorization from State Pollution Control Boards. None of
three states have started implementing the e-waste rules of 2011 and neither
required number of collection centres, dismantlers and recycling centres have
been authorized so far to take care of huge quantity of E-waste that is being
Electronic waste has become a huge problem for the world as we continue to grow
the technology and become their slaves. If an instant action is not taken right
away, it will continue to grow and will become a much bigger problem for the
planet. Also, it has a massive bearing on environment and human life if not
handled in an environmentally sound manner. There has to be sufficient rights
for citizens to take legal recourse for damages caused to their health,
environment and property.
Therefore, it has become the necessity of the time to manage the electronic
waste in an organized and safe manner with sustainable recycling technologies.
There is a need for stringent penal provisions and robust monitoring mechanisms
to deal and match up with electronic waste of present times. there is a need to
adopt effective strategy to encourage re-use, refurbishing or recycling of
e-waste in specialized facilities to prevent environmental contamination and
human health risks.
The setback that we are facing today is the zero enforcement or implementation
of existing regulatory framework. As it could be concluded after the detailed
analysis of this research paper, that we have enough laws to deal with
electronic waste be it Environment Acts (EPA, Water Act and Air Act) or IPC.
Only problem is that they have not been implemented well.
If an individual
cannot file a complaint directly under any of the Environment Act, one can take
an action under IPC. But it seems that even that has not been used properly
which is quite apparent from the case laws filed under these provisions so far.
Second, low level of awareness among individuals as well as officials. Society
and officials should be informed about the importance of the environment and
impact of electronic waste on environment.
Need of the hour is to imbibe in
minds of the people the spirit of service and harmony with environment so that
the errors of the past are not repeated. Thirdly, inadequate work-related safety
for those who are involved in these processes which aggravates e-waste
management. Fourth, central and state pollution control boards must be
strengthened in terms of powers over all the environment related matter. There
must be establishment of manpower and expertise is very well required.
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Award Winning Article Is Written By: Mr.Rriju Warsh.L
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