WHILE the developed world gears up to phase out ozone depleting gases by AD 2000, Mafatlal's Navin Fluorine Industries has set up India's first halon-1211 manufacturing plant, in Surat. Halons are major ozone destroyers.
Under the Montreal Protocol, industrialised counti-les have agreed to phase out ozone-depleting gases completely by AD 2000. India and other developing countries, which are considered insignificant users (consumption levels at 0.3 kg per capita), are entitled to take another 10 years, that is, till 2010.
India's estimated current demand for halons - 300 metric tonnes to 500 metric tonnes - is met by imports from UK,.USA, Germany and Japan. In India, halons are used primarily as fire extinguishants by the defence establishment.
But, with the West phasing out halons, Indian industry is being encouraged by the Defence Institute of Fire Research in New Delhi to enter this area so that the country can meet its future halon needs.
It is feared that once production stops abroad, these essential chemicals will be sold at exorbitant prices to developing countries. Substitutes may become available in the West, but at unaffordable rates. Developed countries are now said to be banking halons for emergency use.
Once India ratifies the Montreal Protocol, consumption and production after January 1, 2002, cannot exceed the average levels achieved between 1995 to 1997. At current levels of demand, India will be permitted to consume 40,000 tonnes per annum (tpa), but will have an installed capacity of 2,300 tpa.
Indian manufacturers cannot create halon banks because the investments required are too high. They are, therefore, eager to see that the-domestic manufacture of halons grows rapidly.
Even in the UK, Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) which produces nearly half of the world's halon, is reluctant to stop all output right away ICI spokesperson John Beckitt recently made a statement that the company wants incentives from governments to se up a halon bank.