Supreme Court seeks status report on hazardous waste directives

The directives were issued by a monitoring committee appointed by the court on October 14, 2003

Eight years after the Supreme Court asked the Centre to implement 29 directives on hazardous waste, it has asked the government to file an affidavit within four weeks on the compliance status.

The directives had been issued by a monitoring committee appointed by the court on October 14, 2003.

While passing the order, the bench comprising Altamas Kabir and H L Gokhale on October 11 took cognisance of the “alarming situation created by dumping of hazardous waste, its generation and serious and irreversible damage to the environment and humans.” It also noted that the dumping violated fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution.


The order comes at a time when world leaders are meeting in Colombia for the 10th Conference of parties to the UN Basel convention which regulates transboundary movements of hazardous waste. The international treaty bans exports of toxic wastes from rich countries to the poorer ones.

In an important development in the first week of October the British Environment Agency penalised two British companies, M W White (Norwich) Ltd and Williams Recycling (UK) Ltd, with fines of £5,000 each after an illegal shipment of mixed waste destined for India was stopped at Felixstowe Port, Britain's premier port.

Sanjay Parikh, senior advocate and a petitioner in the case says, “The court order is important because after many years in this case instead of dealing with individual situations like the ship breaking facilities or landfills in some city the court has demanded an over all status report.”

After the Centre files an affidavit, the information can be used for further legislation on hazardous waste, he adds. “No effective order has been passed in the case since 2007. It keeps coming up for hearing or is rescheduled,” Parikh notes.

Gopal Krishna of ToxicsWatch Alliance (TWA), an applicant in the case, says that the Centre needs to enact suitable legislations to enforce ban on hazardous waste trade. Instead, it has subverted the intent of the Basel treaty by enacting the Hazardous Waste (Management, Handling and Transboundary Movement) Fourth Amendment Rules, 2010. “The Rule was amended four times in 2010 alone. Its Chapter IV permits trade in hazardous waste,” he adds.

Schedule VI of the amended rules does ban import and export of 30 types of hazardous wastes including waste asbestos (dust and fibers) but it only means that all the other kinds of hazardous wastes trade is allowed. Even here the Ministry argues that when waste asbestos (dust and fibers) is embedded in the structure of an end-of life ship, it can be deemed waste.

“This holds true for other wastes as well and a classic case of linguistic sleight of hand,” adds Krishna. He notes that foreign companies operating in developing countries like India usually insist on maintaining the secrecy of their production processes, sometimes making it impossible for the developing country to know how much and what kinds of solid wastes have already been deposited in their territory. “It is hard to imagine how India can effectively regulate pollution from wastes under such conditions. In this regard the affidavit to be submitted becomes very important,” Krishna says.

The judgement of October 14, 2003 had passed 29 specific directions with deadlines and had set up a 10-member Supreme Court Monitoring Committee (SCMC) to ensure compliance with its directions. Not only has the government failed to comply with these directions, it has mutilated and disbanded the monitoring committee without the court’s permission.

The court has scheduled the next hearing in 11, November, 2011. The writ petition was filed in 1995 by the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Natural Resource Policy against the Union of India and Others. In 2003, the apex court directed the Centre to constitute a monitoring committee to oversee timely compliance of its directions.

Sequence of events

Petition filed in 1995, draws courts attention to dumping of hazardous waste, causing irreversible damage to the environment and public health

Supreme Court asks states, union territories and their pollution control boards to submit affidavits regarding work on hazardous waste. At the same time it also demands that the central government file a comprehensive affidavit on the implementation of hazardous waste rules of 1989

Several affidavits filed by central government as well as the state and Union territories.

SC scrutinises these affidavits on August 4, 1997. It observes that state governments were not taking required steps under laws and has not placed material facts before the court In October 1997, the apex court while noting that the central, state and Union territory authorities failed to cooperate or initiate adequate steps, orders formation of a high powered committee

The committee was given 14 terms of reference, which were later mentioned in the 2003 guidelines as well

On October 14, 2003, the apex court receives committee's report and issues 29 directives for compliance to the Union and state governments. Each directive had a stipulated time frame

The court also constitutes a Supreme Court Monitoring committee to report the compliance of these directives. Over the years many such reports were submitted, the most comprehensive being the one in 2007

In 2005, court passes an order on import of used oil from ships and on September 2 order pertaining to ship-breaking was passed.

The way forward

What was not discussed by the court:

1. MARPOL Convention: In 2003, this convention was referred to but was deferred for consideration. The Centre was required to submit an affidavit regarding the compliance to the provisions of this convention. The environment ministry filed this but the matter was not mentioned in the court again.

2. Workers handling hazardous waste. The High Powered Committee formed by the Supreme Court had made specific recommendations following which a special committee of the Ministry of Labour and Industry submitted a report regarding the medical and other compensatory benefits offered to workers handling hazardous waste which are toxic in nature. The court is still to look at this report.

What needs to be discussed by the Court for hazardous waster management

1. Disposal of 242 oil containers lying on the ports

2. Complete inventory of hazardous waste generated and its dumping sites *Many hazardous waste dumpsites not cleared yet; waste contaminating groundwater

3. Several states have not initiated construction of engineered landfills. Hazardous waste dumped within the factory premises or thrown out, implying that all these states are violatiNG the 1989 hazardous waste rules as well as the 2003 Supreme court directives.

4.  Hazardous waste industries were required to set up online display system outside the factory gates, showing the quantity of liquid effluents, air emissions and hazardous waste. This has still not been done

5. Environment ministry has still not made the promised amendments to hazardous waste rules in order to make them in consonance with the Basel Convention. The time frame given for this was four months in the October 2003 order.

6. Labs were to be set up or upgraded on all ports and docks to ensure hazardous waste is not imported. In 2003, the concerned authorities were given 12 months to complete this task. It is yet to be completed.

7. National policy document on hazardous waste not formulated

8. The Supreme Court monitoring committee chairman resigned in 2007. The post is still vacant Source for the boxes: Extracts from the petitioner's submission to the SC in September 2011, following which the court ruled on October 11, 2011

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