Budget 2016: Why E-Waste Management Should Be An Integral Part Of Swachh Bharat

03/03/2016 8:16 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
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Used computer keyboards sit in a pile on the street in New Delhi, India, on Thursday, June 18, 2015. The rupee climbed 0.8 percent in the five days ended June 19, its best week in three months, while the 2024 debt completed its biggest weekly advance since it was first issued in July. Photographer: Kuni Takahashi/Bloomberg via Getty Images

We all know how the US loves consumerism. We have seen how critically its industry and economy depend upon consumer demands for all sorts of things! Its policymakers will not do a thing that may act as a dampener to consumer demand or become an irritant to the production cycle. Yet, back in 1976, US lawmakers still passed the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act as the principal federal law in their country to govern the disposal of solid and hazardous waste, a major contributor to this stream being electronic waste (e-waste)! It was a bold move for the time as the Act was bound to be unpopular with common citizens and face resistance from powerful interest groups. Still, visionary lawmakers like Jennings Randolph, who introduced this Bill in the Senate, realized the growing menace of consumer waste and took a brave stand.

The acceptance and implementation of this law has not been easy. There were concerted efforts by industry bodies and pressure lobbies to curtail it, blunt it or even dump it. But higher conscience prevailed and today the American industry works hand-in-hand with the regulatory authorities to ensure responsible and safer disposal practices, thereby ensuring a better environment.

The government should have announced a special incentive for enterprises who are engaged doing society's 'dirty work'--cleaning the environment.

India produces nearly 2.7 million tons of e-waste today, much more than what the US was producing in the 70s. Yet, there has been a lack of commitment and collaboration for responsible management of e-waste between the industry, consumer and the government. If we discount the occasional ceremonial sermons, the silence of Indian lawmakers on the issue has been disheartening, if not deafening! We do have two central guidelines on the matter under the Environment Protection Act but its implementation has been quite lax. The budgetary support to turn the unorganized e-waste disposal industry into a scientific, systematic and organized activity has also been wanting and long overdue.

The introductory statement by Arun Jaitley in Union Budget 2016-17 makes it clear that a cleaner environment is one of the guiding principles of this year's Budget. However, while the government's intent to promote a cleaner environment is laudable, it must be followed up with ground-level action.

The allotment of ₹9,000 crore for 'Swachh Bharat Abhiyan' is a good move, but its scope needs to be broadened to include the management of e-waste--invisible dirt--in its ambit. We would very much like to see this happening in the Budget's fine print or as a follow-up addition during a revision motion.

Similarly, lower corporate tax for small enterprise is good for encouraging entrepreneurship and start-up programs. But at the same time, the government should have announced a special incentive for enterprises who are engaged doing society's 'dirty work'--cleaning the environment. Let's not lose sight of the fact that e-waste management is among this century's biggest environmental challenges.

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