Kerala City Turns into E-Waste Dump (Oct 2004)

ICT and Environment

„Kerala - City fast turning into e-waste dump.“ Kerala News (05 Oct 2004).

Kerala News, KOCHI: It doesn't take much time to check whether Kerala is emerging as a market for the e-waste dumped from the US.

Walking past the quaint buildings that dot the G.V.Iyer Road on Willingdon Island you reach an old godown that houses Monalisa Industries Private Ltd. The trade they do is as intriguing as the name they spot. Piled up in the dimly lit godown are computer peripherals - monitors, central processing units and keyboards. “All imported from the US,” says Sanjay Aggarwal who owns the firm.

„All are Pentium I and Pentium II machines and are available in the range of Rs 5,000 to Rs 10,000,“ says Aggarwal. The laptops come at Rs 17,000 to Rs 21,000. The brands include IBM, Compaq and Dell. The godown doubles up as his showroom and has been doing brisk business, ever since it was set up two months ago.

His major clientele: people in the rural areas who cannot afford brand new machines. “We sell mostly in interiors like Thirur, Kottakkal, Perumbavoor and some areas in Thrissur,” says Aggarwal.

Monalisa also has the privilege of selling machines in bulk to new age businesses like call centres, internet cafes and computer institutes. “Call centres don't need high end machines. They can well do with these machines that work efficiently,” says Aggarwal. The machines also go to places like Bangalore and Kolkota.

“The quality of the machines are very high. We haven't received any complaints on PCs we have sold,” says Aggarwal who has appointed dealers in all districts and plans to provide servicing for the machines.

Aggarwal says he faced problems when he imported it for the first time. “I had to pay fines to the tune of Rs 4 to 5 lakh to get them released,” he says adding that it is easier for an educational institution to import PCs.

But Aggarwal was not forthcoming when asked whether he imported the goods using such a licence, nor was he ready to part with the name of the agent who sends him the lot from US.

Second-hand computers and computer peripherals have been exempted from customs duty provided they are received as donation by educational institutions run on non-commercial basis or charitable trusts. Law stipulates that such goods shall not be used for any commercial purposes.

The United States is considered the largest e-waste generator in the world and more than 4.6 million tonnes of it entered US landfills in 2000.

An estimated 50 to 80 percent of e-waste collected in the United States for recycling is exported to developing countries like India where it enters ports like Mumbai, Chennai, Kandla and Kochi. Components in electronic products contain hazardous materials, including lead, mercury, arsenic and cadmium.

The dumping of e-waste makes economic sense since cost to recycle a single PC in US would come to $20, while it is just $2 in India. E-waste is covered under The Hazardous Waste Amended Rules, 2003, and under the Basel Convention for which India is a signatory.

“The average life of a computer is not more than 4 to 5 years. In US it is even less. Three years down the line what will you do with it. E-waste can be catastrophic because of the toxic materials found in it,” says S.R.Nair of Team Frontline. It is imperative that India formulates policy on e-waste.