NEW DELHI: The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) has taken cognisance of reports of the involvement of child labour at landfills where e-waste is “irresponsibly” dumped and will ensure action against the offenders, its senior official said on Wednesday.
NCPCR chairperson Priyanka Kanoongo said the apex child rights' body is seized of the issue, highlighted by a recent industry report and non-government organizations (NGOs) working on related matters.
NGOs and experts have earlier raised concerns over the engagement of children who work as rag pickers in landfills in Delhi-NCR and are often exposed to e-waste dumped at these sites, where discarded mobile phone components, among others, are an increasing contributor to waste.
“The country has laws which make it clear that engagement of children in rag-picking itself is a crime, it is a cognizable offence. The law states if e-waste is disposed irresponsibly even on a road and if a child picks it up, then it becomes a cognizable offence,” Kanoongo told PTI, citing relevant sections of the laws.
“We are seized of an ASSOCHAM report and other inputs which highlight the problem of exploitation of children in e-waste. The NCPCR had been working on this... to ensure action against offenders,” he said.
On reports regarding "irresponsible" e-waste disposal by mobile phone makers, including China-headquartered Oppo, Kanoongo said, “Whether Oppo or any other brand, principal accountability of the firms will be fixed for irresponsible disposal of e-waste.”
Oppo, which has a major facility in Noida and allegedly has its e-waste disposed “irresponsibly”, declined to comment on PTI's queries regarding the issue.
Sources, however, said its e-waste is disposed through a vendor based in Modinagar near Meerut, a mechanism practiced by several companies that use a third-party agency for such disposal.
Satish Sinha, associate director at advocacy group Toxics Link, said the problem arises not as much in collection of e-waste but in recycling of the products which chiefly contain plastic, glass and metals and are loaded with highly toxic chemicals.
The children engaged in such jobs are mostly aged between 12 and 16 years, Sinha said, adding, recycling of e-waste by breaking down products or melting them poses environmental and health risks.
“Government agencies like child rights bodies should come forward with guidelines and ensure enforcement of the already existing rules that regulate disposal of e-waste,” Sinha told PTI.
He said India produces around two million tonnes of e-waste per annum and the situation regarding its disposal is improving with stringent government guidelines in place.
The National Green Tribunal (NGT) takes note of cases, while the Electronic Waste Management Rules, 2016, also state that disposal of e-waste is an equally shared responsibility of companies and the authorized agencies dealing in junk.
According to the Indian Pollution Control Association (IPCA), a not-for-profit NGO, e-waste management is a serious concern especially in metro cities, where people are not in the habit of segregation of waste at source.
“E-waste contains heavy metal and many components of e-waste can be re-used in the grey market even after the disposal of the e-product. Most of the rag-pickers and waste collectors including their children are involved in dismantling e-waste to take out the precious components so that they can earn extra money,” Ashish Jain, Founder and Director at IPCA, said.
“Children are getting exposed to toxic gases and elements during the dismantling process and get ill because they do not have proper tools, infrastructure and skill for extraction of such components from the product,” Jain said.
He said the government has policy and rules in place to control such damages but their enforcement at the ground level is always a big question.