All that you wanted to know about water management schemes, but didn't know who to ask
The Union budget of 2005-06 had given the impression that the United Progressive Alliance (upa) government had a plan to promote water conservation and management. With the 2006-07 budget round the corner, now is a good time to look at how serious was upa's water plan.
Last year's performance in the water sector was characterised by two features: reduced allocations and slow progress. Several ambitious upa schemes -- the national scheme for artificial recharge is a case in point -- are yet to take off, reduced to arcane acronyms.
Policy matters also gathered dust. With 2006-07 being the last financial year of 10th Five-Year Plan, the Union ministries of finance and water resources will need a magic wand to get anywhere close to meeting the goals laid down by the Planning Commission.
S V Suersh Babu and Ritu Tanwar got into India's water macro economics. Here, they consider some schemes and policies in detail. They came up with two neat categories: the ones that got underway and haven't yielded results; and the ones that haven't got off the block
Slow and unsteady
The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Water Resources expressed its annoyance over the various schemes of the Union ministry of water resources (mowr) in its fourth report tabled in Parliament on December 7, 2005. On the Planning Commission reducing the plan allocation of Rs 946.21 crore by Rs 25.21 crore, the report observes, "It is difficult to understand the rationale behind the reduction in allocations, which was at variance with the commitment of the government to give top priority to equitable and effective water management in the country."
The National Programme for Repair, Renovation and Restoration of Waterbodies linked to Agriculture: The 'dream' programme announced by the Union finance minister P Chidambaram in July 2004 in upa's maiden budget and launched later in April 2005 by the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in Kabir Dham district in Chhattisgarh. It is still struggling to take off. The guidelines had declared: "The pilot scheme, once completed and validated, will form the basis for the National Water Resources Development Project".
nprrwa was originally designed as a pilot project in five districts in as many regions in the country. According to L A V Nathan, senior joint commissioner in the Union ministry of water resources, 1,084 waterbodies spread over 23 districts in 13 states have been selected for funding. Will this dilute the focus of the scheme? A Sekhar, advisor (water resources) in the Planning Commission believes it will not. It is learned that the remaining states, including the worst groundwater miners like Punjab and Haryana, have not expressed their interest in the scheme. Northeastern states also do not figure in the list of approved projects.
Out of Rs 300 crore earmarked, Rs 263 crore has already been approved for creating an additional potential of 139,000 hectare (ha). "Remaining funds are just enough for one or two more states. As very little time's left for project completion, the government might even close the scheme," says an official.
Feedback from the states indicate that the work has either not started or is in the preliminary stages. N Kailasapathy, deputy chief engineer with the Water Resources Organisation (wro) of Tamil Nadu, says, "Though Union government funds were released in September 2005, work has not started yet due to heavy rains." Nathan says, "Work is going on in about 200-300 waterbodies. Tenders have been floated for the others." Though the guideline sets a two-year deadline for project completion, states are planning to wrap it up by March 2007.
There is more to it. Under Bharat Nirman, a time-bound programme for rural infrastructure by the Union government, out of 10 million ha of additional land to be irrigated, it was planned that nprrrwa would cover one million ha. But there are hardly any funds left -- only Rs 37 crore.
skewed funding: nprrrwa funds are still with the finance ministry. The ministry of water resources (mowr) is just a proposal clearinghouse. The finance ministry releases funds to the state finance department, which then allocates the funds to the nodal department, from where they reach the District Level Implementation Committee (dlic). Officials acknowledge that a lot of time is wasted in this process. Until January 2006, Rs 67 crore has been released to states as first instalment. Only Rs 3 crore has been released to six districts as second instalment. mowr says first releases, which began in March 2005, lasted till December 2005. L K Aggarwal, Rajasthan's additional chief engineer, says, "Of the approved cost of Rs 4 crore, no money has been received so far."
Another issue is the regional variation in the number of waterbodies taken up in a district. Numbers vary from 224 tanks in Mehboob Nagar in Andhra Pradesh to one in Pali in Rajasthan. On an average, 21 per cent of the waterbodies in a district have been selected -- ranging from 1 per cent in Shivagangai district in Tamil Nadu to 88 per cent in Bangalore rural.
More than half the funds are earmarked for three southern states: Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, which have done a large number of restoration programmes. A Vaidyanathan, eminent water economist, asks, "What's the need for pilot projects in these states where full-fledged external funded tank restoration programmes have already been undertaken?"
The command area of the tanks selected cannot be less than 40 ha, say the guideline. As per the approved projects, the average command area for each of the 1,084 projects is about 260 ha. This varies from 45 ha in Pathanamthita district in Kerala to 1,431 ha in Pali. In most states, tanks with a command area greater than 40 ha are the responsibility of government departments and those with command areas smaller than 40 ha is with Panchayati Raj institutions.
Distribution of funds also is skewed. Cost norms, as per the guidelines, depend on either the command area of the tank (Rs 30,000/per ha) or additional irrigation potential to be restored (Rs 80,000/per ha). While mowr officials say it is the states' prerogative to fix the cost based on the extent of renovation, the variation in approved unit cost is difficult to understand. As against a national average of Rs 9,168, the cost per ha of command area ranges from Rs 2,478 in Bangalore rural to Rs 30,000 in South 24 Paraganas in West Bengal. Similarly, the approved cost per ha of additional potential created varies from Rs 12,755 per ha in Mandi in Himachal to Rs 80,448 per ha in Ajmer in Rajasthan. The national average is Rs 18,884 per ha.
implementation strategy: All the states Down To Earth spoke to informed that the dlic, headed by the district collector, is in place for monitoring the implementation. As per the guidelines, the vice chairperson of dlic is to be an ngo nominated by the mowr along with the executive engineer of the nodal state department. Experts worry that such a bureaucratic set-up will exclude communities. Devendra Deo, director of the ngo Paaniwale and the vice chairperson of the Ajmer dlic, says, "Red-tapism is certainly a cause of concern and it makes decision making very slow."
mowr says formation of dlic is mandatory for fund releases. Feedback from states depicts a different picture. The Shivpuri dlic in Madhya Pradesh, for example, was formed in January 5, 2006, much after the fund was released.
The supposed role of communities is to maintain the restored tanks. They don't have to contribute towards the project cost. "Unless this is done there will be no sense of ownership and hence no sustainability," says C R Shanmugham of the ngo Dhan Foundation in Madurai.
The extent to which a state government involves communities varies. Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka claim communities are involved right from the planning phase. But Madhya Pradesh keeps the community out of planning and implementation. The decision to involve private contractors rests with the dlic. S N Thanvi, Rajasthan's irrigation secretary, says his state has already invited tenders for the works planned.
works unclear: The nprrrwa guidelines are silent on the critical issue of catchment area treatment. As per the guidelines, states can decide whether the catchment has to be treated or not. "In Tamil Nadu", says Kailasapathy, "Rs 1,500 per ha (or 5 per cent of the project cost) is put into catchment treatment." V D Ratmale, sub-divisional water resources officer in Tikamgarh, says, "I have no idea of catchment treatment."
maintenance and sustainability: mowr washes off its responsibility. The guidelines says "the resource requirement for operation and maintenance (o&m) will be worked out by the states concerned during implementation." Viveka Priya of the Villupuram-based ngo Shree Sharada Ashram, who is the vice chairperson of the local dlic, says they are considering the creation of a corpus for o&m out of the estimated cost.
And how will government know whether the schemes are effective? Impact monitoring is to be the job of the Central Water Commission and the Central Ground Water Board, and will start after the project's completion. But it is also clear that the government is in no mood for long-term impact monitoring. The guidelines brush monitoring aside.
as one door closes...: It seems the Union government isn't interested in nprrrwa any longer. Now, word has it that Chidambaram has a new deal to offer without waiting for the old one to complete. The National Water Resources Development Project (nwrdp), aimed at reviving 20,000 tanks, might make a debut in two months. A World Bank loan will cover 75 per cent of the cost.
Four states -- Orissa, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh -- have already been chosen for its first phase. Tamil Nadu officials say a Rs 4000-crore project will revive 10,540 tanks during 2007-2012. So the state will get more than half the money.
This is where the Rs 300-crore pilot project, launched last year but a complete dud till now, could have been invaluable. "In the southern states, integrated tank-based watershed approach has proven to be the way to do tank renovation," says Shanmugham. " nprrrwa could have formed the platform to test and identify its strength and weakness, and refine it for large-scale application." Why the rush for the new scheme? Is the government shying away from the hard realities of nprrwa? Or is the government acting in anticipation of the forthcoming elections to the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly?
Accelerated Irrigation Benefit Programme: Despite huge investments, aibp still hasn't addressed the issue of spillover costs and gestation periods in unfinished major and medium irrigation projects. In 1996, aibp was launched to accelerate the completion of 430 incomplete irrigation/multi-purpose projects spread over 24 states. More than Rs 41,000 crore has been invested in these by the end of the eight plan. According to mowr sources, 46 of 187 projects in 21 states funded under aibp have been completed by January 2006 (see table: At snail's pace).
A review by the Comptroller and Auditor General (cag ) of India in 2003-04 had showed that despite spending Rs 13,823 crore in 24 States during 1996-2003, the objective of accelerating benefits remained largely unachieved. The report observed, "28 per cent of the envisaged irrigation potential was created, of which merely 11 per cent could be utilised." Even then things didn't change. According to the mid-term appraisal of the tenth plan by the Planing Commission, only 2.66 million hectares (mha) additional irrigation potential was created till March 2004 out of the planned 9 mha. This figure now stands at 3.25 mha, leaving aside a small matter of 6.7 mha.
"Instead of emphasising only the completion of projects, attention must also be paid to maximising potential creation at given costs. The balance potential and balance cost should also be kept in mind while selecting projects," the commission suggests. cag has criticised the relaxation in aibp guidelines from time to time: "Successive modifications diluting the investment focus resulted in injudicious project selection". The guidelines were relaxed yet again in 2005.
mowr's monitoring mechanism is also under the scanner. cag has pulled up several states for wrongful utilisation of aibp funds. Monitoring by the Central Water Commission's field offices were either inadequate or not followed up. In 2005-06, most states did not come up for the second instalment as they hadn't utilised the 70 per cent of the first instalment, as mandated. The Parliamentary Standing Committee also came down heavily on mowr for projects lying incomplete. It has directed the ministry to evolve realistic and effective time schedules for utilisation of grants.
Of the additional irrigation potential created, nobody knows how much is utilised. " aibp is for potential creation only. The states do not report utilisation," says an official. Kirit Parikh, Planning Commission member in charge of water, says, "We are planning to change the structure of the scheme."
"As the investment is not yielding results, we need to understand what went wrong and where. Has anybody studied the state of completion, prioritisation of projects, and the cost-benefit aspects?" asks Vaidyanathan.
In order to help farmers of the Scheduled Castes and Tribes, Chidambaram had announced this Rs 100-crore scheme to "cover 100,000 irrigation units at an average cost of Rs 20,000 per unit". According to the Planning Commission, the project is not successful because poor farmers can't afford to contribute the 50 per cent cost that is mandatory. Poor farmers are also unwilling to commit a part of their land for digging farm ponds to capture rainwater. The bureaucracy has already scaled down the funds by half to Rs 50 crore. "This year the target is Rs 10-15 crore as compared to a total release of Rs 60-70 lakh last year," says Sekhar. But, if the problem is farmers' contribution and commitment of land, how has a similar scheme in Gujarat, Sujalam Sufalam, caught the imagination of farmers. Perhaps the problem is community mobilisation and not affordability.
Several critical programmes for groundwater recharge, micro-irrigation and rainfed agriculture failed to take off. The Central Ground Water Board (cgwb) recently estimated that 58 per cent of the total available groundwater is exploited as compared to 37 per cent in 1998.
National scheme for artificial recharge : It's done the rounds of mowr, the Planning Commission and the cabinet committee of economic affairs (ccea). But nsar is heading nowhere. "During the ninth plan, 165 demonstration schemes with different region-specific structures were constructed in 27 states. Another 12 projects are nearing completion," says R C Jain, superintending hydrogeologist at the Central Ground Water Authority (cgwa).
"Based on previous experiences, a Rs 20,000-crore national perspective plan for artificial recharge in rural areas was formulated," Jain says. Construction of 37,000 percolation tanks, 110,000 checkdams, 48,000 recharge shafts/dugwells, and 26,000 gully plugs was planned. In December 2004, mowr scaled this down to a ridiculous Rs 175 crore, for creating 5,088 groundwater recharge structures across India. "The objective was to extend the pilot programmes carried out during eight and ninth plan," says Jain. The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Water Resources (scwr), in December 2005, came down heavily on mowr for its lackadaisical approach in getting nsar cleared by ccea. It turns out mowr withdrew the scheme from ccea after the Planning Commission cleared it. It is expected the scheme will resurface in the eleventh plan.
"Why do we need more demonstration projects? Has the time not come to consolidate and upscale the learning from different projects?" asks Vaidyanathan. The rejigged plan overlooked the time-tested system of recharging through dugwells. "With a filter to arrest silt, dug well recharging is very effective," Jain agrees. As per mowr's 2005 third census of minor irrigation schemes, of the 18.5 million wells in the country, more than half are dug wells, of which almost eight million belong to individual farmers. 415,000 dugwells in the country have dried up.
Experts blame the cgwb technocrats who draw up a plan without consulting or understanding the experience of thousands of projects across India. Villagers in Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan have already demonstrated the impact of the dugwell approach.
Officials assure rainwater harvesting and artificial recharge are components of the upcoming National Rural Employment Programme (nreg). The Planning Commission has approved a cgwa concept note on the recharge component in nreg. Of the 200 most backward districts in India, it finds only 17 districts suitable for recharging.
The critical policy challenge in water is the creation of a single administrative ministry for water. There is a need to integrate the interests of different ministries. In December 2002, t he National Development Council had suggested the need to bring all water issues under one ministry. Besides mowr, Union ministries of rural development, agriculture, urban development and poverty alleviation, and environment and forests have a say in water schemes.
The government has failed to constitute the National Water Resources Programme Coordination Committee (nwrpc) under a Planning Commission member (agriculture and water resources), as suggested in the tenth plan. scwr has already issued an ultimatum regarding the same.
Vaidyanathan, though, points at a problem: "When source and use are different, single ministry will be a tough proposition. It is an option worth considering. But we must ensure integration at the river basin level." Giving the example of the wro in Tamil Nadu, Vaidyanathan says: " wro is there just for name's sake. With out a functional notion, unification will be of no use".
National Rainfed Area Authority: The prime minister announced nrfaa in his 2005 Independence Day speech. Five months on, it hasn't been constituted. nrfaa was mooted as a solution for the problems of nearly two-thirds of India's cultivable area, which is rainfed.
"Watershed programmes today are implemented by the ministries of rural development, agriculture, environment and forests, the Planning Commission, and externally funded projects. There have been considerable divergences and overlaps amongst various projects, let alone any fruitful linkages and synergies among the programmes and projects," says the commission's backgrounder on nrfaa . Implementing agencies lack not just technical expertise but also skills of community mobilisation.
nrfaa will be a quasi-government body to manage Centrally funded watershed programmes. Its objective will be to provide safe drinking water, sustainable livelihoods, and drought proofing by 2020. At this point it is not clear as to what all programmes will be brought under the nrfaa . This authority can work wonders if it can integrate not only the watershed programmes but also agricultural extension and micro-irrigation programmes that aim to achieve efficiency in water use. A brainstorming session is scheduled to happen on February 15 on this authority.
How hazardous is dismantling a decommissioned ship? It does have dangerous substances like asbestos, polychlorinated biphenyls (pcbs) and spent oil. Who should be allowed to engage in shipbreaking? What rules exist to ensure the safety of labour involved in dismantling ships and the environment? A brief recap is essential for clarity.
The 1980s saw a sharp increase in cases of industrialised countries dumping their toxic waste on to developing countries. Though rich countries have better facilities to handle dangerous substances in an "environmentally sound manner", it is far cheaper to dump these in developing countries where regulation and monitoring is almost non-existent. In 1989 was signed the most important international treaty to regulate the global waste trade: the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal. It was amended in 1997 to bring in what's called the Basel Ban. This prohibits all movement of hazardous waste from industrialised countries (forming the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, or oecd) to developing (hence, non- oecd) countries.
But there is a catch: this rule applies only to waste meant for 'final disposal' -- it doesn't apply to waste meant for recycling. Basel convention countries had agreed in this amendment to phase out trade from oecd countries to non- oecd countries in waste meant for 'recycling or recovery'. The fear was that waste meant for final disposal would continue to sneak through in the garb of recycling. Hence it was agreed that oecd countries would be allowed to trade only among themselves. These countries were listed in the Annex VII of the convention. This later included the eu and Liechtenstein.
The Basel Ban can be enforced only after 62 countries ratify it. The count stands at 61 at present -- just one short. Those who haven't ratified the ban include India, the original promoter of the Basel Convention, and the us, the world's largest waste producer. Till the ban comes into force, Annex VII countries that haven't ratified the ban can export hazardous wastes to developing countries like India.
In its article 1, the Basel Convention defines waste that should be considered hazardous; a list of items defines waste in Annex I; the characteristics that make the waste hazardous are spelt out in Annex III. Putting all these together, decommissioned ships are hazardous waste -- unless they are completely decontaminated, which means stripped and cleaned of virtually everything, leaving only the steel structure to be sent for dismantling.
So Le Clemenceau or the Danish ship Riky would be considered waste. Under the convention, as well as the European Union's laws, these ships cannot be exported for disposal without decontamination.
But the shipbreaking industry argues a vessel can't be regarded a 'ship' and 'waste' at the same time. The Basel Convention's 2004 conference decided that a vessel can be categorised as waste under Basel and simultaneously be regarded a ship under other international rules.
The pitch is further queered by another United Nations body: the International Maritime Organisation (imo) based in London. It regulates global shipping business. imo insists waste from ships is within its jurisdiction. A bulk of imo funding comes from countries that have registered a large number of ships. This, rue environmentalists, results in imo decisions getting dictated by the industry.
The Danish environment protection agency says in 2002, the scrapping price for a standard tanker in a European facility was us $3.2 million; in an average Asian facility, the same was us $1.2 million.
Business in Alang is also suffering in this price war: from 347 ships in 1998, the yard is down to 196 in 2004. This has as much to do with higher freight rates as with competition from neighbouring countries like Bangladesh and Pakistan offering shipbreaking facilities cheaper than Alang.
The dirt business meets Bangladesh's domestic iron and steel demand. It has worked its duty structure to provide incentives. The Indian industry complains that, while the duty on import of metal scrap has been done away with, the tax on shipbreaking has increased and it has to pay 23 per cent of its turnover in taxes. "This duty is very debilitating as the ship breakers end up paying 5 per cent customs duty on melting scrap that is recovered off the ship, while there is no duty on it if it is imported," says N M Khatri, marine engineer, Gujarat Maritime Board (gmb).
China and Bangladesh have more favourable duty structures. In a market driven solely by prices, they have edged India out of the top slot in the past three years. China offers a subsidy of 14 per cent on each ship. In Bangladesh, the duty on ships for recycling (2.5 per cent) is 10 per cent higher than that on finished steel. Pakistan has stated it wants to meet 20 per cent of its local steel demand by recycling ships. So, in 2005, it reduced the duty on ships that come for breaking by around Pak Rs 1,300 per tonne. "Just a week ago, a 4,000 light displacement tonnes (ldt) Japanese oil tanker sailed off to Bangladesh, which offered a rate of us $360 per ldt whereas Alang businesses offered a maximum of us $330 per ldt ," rues Sanjay Shah, a leading ship broker for the Alang yard (see chart: Shipbreakers' millions).
Compliance with environmental and safety regulations also raises the cost of dismantling. In India, for instance, after the 2001 explosions in the shipyards, pollution control authorities have stipulated that each ship must be required to have a gas-free certificate. In other words, it is cleared for gas cutting by the Indian explosives department. Bangladesh and Pakistan do not require this certificate, say shipbreakers.
The number of ships to be scrapped is expected to increase and the shipbreaking business will boom. Because all single-hulled oil tankers -- of which there are many -- will be phased out. Their deadline for phasing out has been predated from 2015 to 2010.
Cost of living
The shipbreakers of Alang are an exasperated lot. "As it is we are crippled by excise duty and competition. Then these Greenpeace activists make business tough for us. Shipbreaking falls under 32 government departments. How are we supposed to operate," says R K Jain, operator of a ship breaking plot and an ancillary steel rolling mill in Alang.
Alang has hit the headlines earlier. In October, 2003, the Supreme Court gave wide-ranging directions for the management of hazardous waste from ships in Alang. It said:
l "Before the ship arrives at port, it should have proper consent from the concerned authority or the state maritime board stating that it does not contain any hazardous waste or radioactive substances"
l "The ship should be properly decontaminated by the ship owner prior to breaking"
l "The complete inventory of hazardous waste should be made mandatory for the ship owner."
The court also directed continuous monitoring of air and noise pollution as well as the installation of hazardous waste disposal facilities in Alang. The court, therefore, did not ban shipbreaking. It banned the onboard cargo of hazardous waste in the ships, which it directed had to be decontaminated before entry. It also set up guidelines for "environmentally sound shipbreaking" in the yard.
In light of the court's orders, should Le Clemenceau , be decontaminated before breaking or refused entry? Which definition of hazardous waste will India opt for? The Basel classification, which lists both the items and the characteristics of the waste in separate annexes? Or the imo definition, according to which a list of all hazardous substances on the ship should be handed over to the breakers? Most importantly, have the Supreme Court directions helped make Alang green?
Down To Earth very little has changed in Alang over the years. In fact, with rising costs and lower profits, worker safety is the first casualty at the plots. Leave alone sophisticated equipment like body suits and respirators, the workers on the yard hardly have basic equipment like gloves, boots, goggles and helmets, supposed to be provided by the plot owners. "We are usually provided with helmets and gloves. Those who can afford it buy their own cheap goggles for Rs 30-35 and boots for Rs 200-250," says Vijay Prasad, a worker from Jharkhand.
Gujarat Maritime Board Act mandates that the workers are issued "helmet, safety shoes, welding goggles, safety belt with safety line, hand-gloves and self-contained breathing apparatus with relevant Indian Standard Specification". In India, the average cost of an standard neoprene bodysuit is Rs 1,500. Respirators: Rs 2,500-4,500, depending on the filters.
"Asbestos is completely harmless, no supervision is required," say ship broker Sanjay Shah and shipbreaker R K Jain. "We have been doing this for so many years. The worker just needs to break the asbestos with a rod and put it away. What's the big deal? There is absolutely no increase in safety equipment cost in dealing with asbestos." But the usual explanation that the high cost of safety gear makes the industry unviable does not hold much water. "In the past two years, China has been setting up cleaner facilities with better safety provisions, which is why many companies send ships there," says Jain. P&O Lines, one of world's biggest shipping lines, has decided to sell all its ships to China.
The court had ordered better infrastructure for cleaner dismantling. According to reports, the Gujarat Maritime Board has invested Rs 4.5 crore in building environmental infrastructure. It is not clear where this investment has gone, other than a secured landfill for hazardous waste that was commissioned five months ago. The facility has three separate landfills: one for asbestos and glass wool, another for industrial and solid waste, and yet another for municipal solid waste.
Currently, all plot owners supposedly transport their waste to the Odhav landfill site, near Ahmedabad. But nobody can explain the economics of the new landfill. Membership fee for a site at Alang is a non-refundable Rs 30,000 for three years, and a recurring cost of Rs 1,000-7,000 per tonne of waste, depending of its quality. "Whereas even if you include the transportation cost, disposal at Odhav is cheaper than at Alang," says Nitin Kanakiya, joint secretary of the Ship Recycling Industries Association at Bhavnagar. Clearly, the private developer of the landfill is busy looking for secured profits, which is mandated by the orders of the court. This will make for poor waste business.
Although the media is focused on the health impact of asbestos on the workers who would dismantle Le Clemenceau, here is the bigger picture: India imported Rs 22.7 crore and Rs 32.8 crore worth of fabricated asbestos fibres and asbestos friction materials in 2003-04 and 2004-05, respectively. The occupational health impact of both these materials is very similar to that of the structural asbestos in Le Clemenceau. More facts: In 2004-05, France sold 109 tonnes of asbestos brake lining and pads to India, while its use is banned in industrialised countries including France.
The noise over the highly toxic polychlorinated biphenyls (pcbs) waste that would come out of Le Clemenceau seems like an overreaction if you compare it to the fact that in 2003-04, France exported 20 tonnes of pcbs, polybrominated biphenyls (pbbs) and polychlorinated terphenyls (pcts) to India.
The use, import and export of some of these chemicals, known as persistent organic pollutants, is banned under the Stockholm Convention. In 2003-04, India imported 5.25 tonnes of goods under the Indian trade classification number (hs number) 38249036. These cover "goods of a kind known as hazardous waste".
The database maintained by the Union ministry of commerce records with tremendous diligence the country imports large amounts of waste that is clearly hazardous. This waste -- all of it coded in official terms -- includes all sorts of substances: asbestos, mercury, cadmium, lead acid waste batteries, waste oil containing pcb s, and metal sludge containing arsenic and other heavy metals.
And our import interest isn't restricted to metal sludge; it extends to the ash of municipal waste burnt by exporting countries. In the past two years, 1,200 tonnes of incineration ash and residues have been dumped in India. The uk sent 660 tonnes and Australia contributed another 40 tonnes. It is as if India doesn't have any municipal waste disposal problems of its own. That the country imports ash from municipal and hazardous waste incinerators defies any explanation.
Import of clinical waste is recorded under code number 382530. The custom manual defines this as "clinical waste, that is contaminated waste arising from medical research, diagnoses, treatment...which often contain pathogens and pharmaceutical substances and require special disposal procedures (for example, soiled dressing, used gloves and used syringes)".
Last year, India imported 101 tonnes of this potentially dangerous waste from the super hygienic country of Singapore. And paid Rs 7 lakh for it. The cheaper the waste, the dirtier it is. In such cases, the price paid for import isn't enough to cover the cost of recycling even. This is nothing short of dumping.
Most of this waste -- import of commercial value, as the government data would have us believe -- is imported from the oecd countries that are prohibited under the Basel Convention from trading waste trade with non- oecd countries. How does this happen? What method of circumvention is this? Why does India prefer to be the dustbin of the industrialised world?
Difficult as it may be to believe, India has its own Hazardous Waste (Management and Handling) Rules 1989.
That the policy makers and enforcement agencies don't consider dgft data, although it's available on a government website, in their decision making is appalling. That industrialised country governments, which have ratified the Basel Convention and the Basel Ban apart from enacting domestic laws to stop export of hazardous wastes, continue to do so is only worse. Part of the problem lies in the provision of the convention, part of it in its interpretation, and a substantial part in its enforcement.
To start with, the Basel Convention defines hazardous waste as "wastes that belong to any category contained in Annex I, unless they do not possess any of the characteristics contained in Annex III". Annex I contains 18 waste streams (list of processes/operations through which hazardous waste is generated; for example, wastes from the production and preparation of pharmaceutical products). It also contains 27 hazardous chemicals; if any of these is found in a waste, then it waste is to be considered hazardous.
But Basel also defines the characteristics of the hazardous waste in Annex III. So, a waste can be termed hazardous if it exhibits the following characteristics: explosive, flammable, corrosive, oxidising, poisonous, toxic, eco-toxic, among others. This means waste generated from the 18 listed streams and those containing the 27 chemicals listed hazardous can be termed as hazardous only if they exhibit the characteristics listed in Annex iii .
The fine print is that the convention has detailed universally accepted test protocols to define the hazard characteristics quantitatively. It's up to national authorities (and exporters and importers) to decide whether a waste is hazardous or not. This makes proving a waste hazardous much more difficult as compared proving a hazardous waste non-hazardous; more so in the developing countries that do not have the technical capacity in this regard.
Recognising this drawback in 1998, the Basel Convention introduced a new classification for hazardous waste in its Annex VIII. This defined waste in greater detail. But even with this, it is difficult to ascertain what waste is hazardous and what is not, because countries need to specify what are the characteristics that make the waste hazardous. This, in turn, requires test procedures.
The Basel Convention does not list these transactions on its website. The Indian government pleads ignorance. The individual exporting countries do not list this trade in the public domain. The answer could lie in the finest of fine print in the Basel Convention, which allows for bilateral, multilateral and regional agreements. This allows transboundry movement of hazardous wastes, even from oecd countries to their non- oecd counterparts.
If these nefarious bilateral deals do exist, the documents are not in pubic domain. It is unclear, for instance, if the uk and India have entered into a bilateral agreement allowing trade in hazardous materials. The bottomline is that India is fast becoming the waste capital of the world and all national and international agreements are doing precious little to regulate this dirty trade.
Le Clemenceau is undoubtedly big. It has dominated more than its fair share of media space. But it does deserve it. Not because of its scale or the fact that it is carrying asbestos, whether in its cargo or its structure. But that the Le Clemenceau's fate will set a precedent--an example which will set the tone for the future of shipbreaking in India and send a loud and clear message to the industrialised nations, for better or worse. It is definite that the warship is highlighting the weaknesses in the existing regulatory regime. The question now is, will Le Clemenceau will remain another case of one isolated ship that, whose issue is buried along with it. Or will Le Clemenceau pave the way for better burials but not of the environment or safety standards.
The next tide of end-of-life ships is almost on our shores now. And for as long as they will come, there will be hazardous waste in ships, either in its cargo or its structure. But right now, its decontamination, however essential, is viewed as an unnecessary issue by exporting countries. That has to change.
The tug-of-war between the imo and the Basel Convention shows that in the global arena, trade interests will dominate the environmental negotiations. The same countries which push for environmental legislation to protect their countries at the Basel meetings will protect their trade interest in the imo. It is therefore important for India to look at its own interest and balance its trade and environment issues.
It is also amply clear that India will have competitors who will be prepared to receive these toxic tubs much cheaper and in poorer environmental conditions than ours. And this is exactly where India needs to set its own house in order. If it wants to be part of this ship trade and it can then it must clean up the mess in Alang. It must, in fact, build confidence in green certification of its ship yards. Doing it cheaply and dirtily is not the answer.
And the Le Clemenceau burial on or off Indian shores will be a waste if we don't use this opportunity to clean up the mess in our waste trade. It is clear that India is becoming and will become the dumping ground if unchecked.
On the first go, the list of 29 prohibited waste items needs to be expanded, the definition of waste clarified and made consistent with the trade classification under the ministry of commerce. The window of waste dumping must be closed tightly so that under the guise of recycling, dumping does not happen. For this, all import needs to be tracked. Not just that, information on all importers, the purpose of the import and how they eventually get processed should be made public.
The confusion and lack of coordination between the departments dealing with trade (customs, port and commerce ministry) and those dealing with environmental issues (pollution control boards and moef) cannot be accepted as an explanation for foreign waste crowding our shores. Neither can the fact that the customs department, which is in-charge of checking imports, lacks technical capacity and infrastructure to do so. If the country does not have the capacity to be able to check waste import and its type, then there should be an outright ban. Others will dump on us if we allow it. And as India industrialises, it will look for dumping grounds to dump its own wastes on its own neighbors. This is unacceptable.
Waste is waste. Whether there or here, there is no confusion. India does not need to part the sea to answer this question. It just needs to draw clear lines, learn to say no and clear the muddy waters.
With inputs by Archi Rastogi
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