Another ammunition cache in Ghaziabad

There will be many more if we don't clean up

Published: Wednesday 31 May 2006

-- there is a popular saying in Hindi. Loosely translated it means regard the guest as god's incarnate. Most times we do not take such sayings seriously. But sometimes we do, even if there are disastrous consequences. India has played welcome hosts to hazardous wastes of all kind. In the latest instance of its kind more than 60 pieces of missiles, bombs and mortars were found in a factory in Ghaziabad on the outskirts of the capital. The origins of these lethal projectiles have not been determined as yet. But that does not matter. We know that factory owners recycle ammunition -- live or dead -- because of the good quality metal used in manufacturing them.

Barely 18 months back, a truck carrying scrap to another Ghaziabad factory had blown up killing 10 workers (see "Just Dump It," Down To Earth, November 15, 2004). The truck contained live ammunition. But it's not just ammunition that we allow in. There is free traffic in wastes of all kind: arsenic, asbestos, medical waste, plastic waste, polymers, waste of iron, unimaginable quantities of mercury -- the list is terribly long. We get waste from the us, Japan, the European Union, even Burkino Faso and Mali. Warships and tankers get their last rites on our shores. Barely had the hullabaloo over Le Clemenceau abated, there is an Iranian vessel bound for Alang.

The Ghaziabad explosion generated huge outcry. So did Le Clemenceau. But mere episodic -- and spasmodic -- outbursts aren't going to solve the problem. Waste trade is lucrative business for many in the country. Others will always dump on us if we have willing takers. And our government has been tardy in making such players clean up their act. It has done precious little to track import, gather information on importers and ascertain the purpose of imports. Our list of toxic waste is imperfect, and our definition of what constitutes such waste is anomalous. Ham-handed customs departments and lack of coordination with environmental authorities don't help matters at all. In all this the Basel convention, which is supposed to control the international traffic in hazardous waste, doesn't seem to figure anywhere.

So let's continue regarding guests as divine incarnates. But let's not forget another adage: toxic waste is toxic waste.

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