Minamata Convention: India skips historic meet

Officials mum on why no official representative went from India

By Anupam Chakravartty
Published: Thursday 10 October 2013

India approved of the draft treaty of the Minamata Convention in January this year. But there were no officials to represent the country at the Convention meet on October 10 at Kumamoto in Japan. Officials in the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) refused to comment on why India could not make it to the historic Convention attended by 140 countries.

While India imports about 170 to 180 tonnes of mercury annually, around 20 tonnes are exported. According to estimates available with Delhi-based ToxicLinks, since 2005, exports have come down from around 550 tonnes to the 180 tonnes in 2011 (see 'India, a mercury hotspot') . “MoEF should have marked its presence at the convention meet, as we could easily take global leadership in phasing out mercury in our country,” said Satish Sinha of ToxicLinks.

Gain for China, loss for India

In the case of China, one of the biggest emitters of mercury in Asia, the negotiations at Minamata Convention meet proved to be useful. While China has Cinnabar mines from where ore of mercury is extracted, it has several coal powered plants, which also emit a large amount of mercury into the atmosphere. On top of that, China also has small and artisanal gold mining, which contributes to the  majority of the emissions in the world. Now a signatory of the treaty, China is likely to be aided by the Convention in phasing out and exploring alternative technologies.

India, on the other hand, is promoting several coal power plants which emit mercury, severely affecting the health of people living next to them (See 'India's Minamata'). The country has no policy to regulate and control mercury emissions. “Signing of the treaty would have proved useful for India as regulations could have been put into place to check mercury,” said Sinha.

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