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Maya of Mayapuri: If It's Not Poisonous on Paper, It's Not Poisonous At All

Ask those who work in West Delhi’s biggest junkyard if anything changed after 2010, they say yes and no.

Published: 10th April 2016 08:02 AM  |   Last Updated: 10th April 2016 08:02 AM   |  A+A-

NEW DELHI: On what was declared as the International Day of Yoga in 2015, more than 35,000 people synced their breaths along Rajpath’s vast tarmac, turning it into a mat and breaking into posture after posture upon it. On that day, 16 km westward in Mayapuri’s greasy industrial district, Meera and her friends were at their yoga class in a local temple. Their guru smirked, “Pranayama karne ke liye swachh vaayu bhi honi chahiye.” In this graveyard of things, every organ is extracted in its black, grimy crudeness and pledged for money, and here, human beings practice yoga without breathing techniques. The year has changed, so have the ironies. On April 3, Union Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change released new rules for ‘Hazardous and other Waste’. Krishna Gopal, civil society activist and convener of Toxic Watch Alliance, points to the linguistic corruptions at play. He feels the permission for import of hazardous waste for ‘recycling or recovery or reuse’ is an attempt to define waste as non-waste. “This is an act designed to redefine end-of-life product as non-waste, is akin to defining waste as non-new good and has been done to pander to the interests of international and national hazardous waste traders,” Gopal states. For instance, ‘disposal’ is defined as ‘any operation which does not lead to recycling, recovery or reuse and includes physico-chemical, biological treatment, incineration and disposal in secured landfill.’ It will have us believe that ‘recycling, recovery or reuse’ is disposal.

The rules also state that ‘transboundary movement’ means any movement of hazardous or other wastes from an area under the jurisdiction of one country to or through an area under the jurisdiction of another country or to or through an area not under the jurisdiction of any country, provided that at least two countries are involved in the movement. The 2016 rules, in Gopal’s opinion, encourage disposal of waste farther away from the source of generation and promote transboundary movement of hazardous waste. Ask the Central Pollution Control Board about the presence of hazardous waste in Mayapuri’s scrap market, where a radioactive blast took place after a metal pipe containing Cobalt 60 was wrongly discarded by Delhi University professors in 2010, and they explain that those who place products in the market are responsible for their rightful disposal. “Under the Environment Protection Act, 1986, we are giving producers targets to collect an amount of e-waste that corresponds to the scale of production,” states a CPCB official. The board is working on fresh guidelines for vehicle recycling and limited e-waste in automobile recycling.

Ask those who work in West Delhi’s biggest junkyard if anything changed after 2010, they say yes and no. There was a license imposed on the usage of metal cutters, which in turn fuelled nepotism and bribery, and this license can be procured within a day for anything between `50,000 and `1 lakh; e-waste certificates were issued to even those who didn’t have shops; the market shifted base to residential areas like Matiala, Najafgarh and Mustafabad near Haryana and Mandoli, Sonia Vihar across the Yamuna, where the consequences of a similar disaster will mean a greater loss of lives; and the average price of a shop fell from `2 crore to `50 lakh in these six years.

There is still no lab to test chemicals; the market buys scrap imported from Iraq, Iran and China, and the only advice given to the shop owners is to check whether that material has ‘danger’ stamped on it; there is no scientist to train workers on how to recycle chemical coolant residues; the Employees’ State Insurance Fund is for those earning `15,000 or more and for daily burns and cuts, labourers self-medicate if at all.

The National Disaster Response Force battalion stationed at its Ghaziabad base was rushed in to rescue the casualties of the 2010 incident. Each of its 12 battalions is equipped with chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear equipment worth `4 crore. Cure, if not prevention, is well taken care of.

Is it possible to make environmental hazards so hard to define that most are mostly confused if they are hazards at all? Check and checkmate.

Ministerspeak

‘New remediation policy to handle dumps’

Environment Minister

Prakash Javadekar speaks to Richa Sharma. Excerpts:

What has been done to stop Mayapuri-like incidents?

We are coming out with a new remediation policy to handle existing dumps and prevent incidents like Mayapuri radiation leak and Mumbai’s Deonar fire.   

How does new hazardous waste rule address the problem?

We have come up with six new rules, including on the hazardous waste, to ensure proper collection and segregation of waste at source so that different kinds are disposed of or recycled.       

Are states on board to ensure implementation?

Yes, they are. We are mandating them to implement it.

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