Report: Aqsa Anjum

Photo:Gargi Nim

In the recent years, Delhi has emerged as a hub of E-waste, according to a study conducted by MAIT

( Manufacturer Association of IT Industry ) and GTZ (German Technical Cooperation) . In 2007, four lakh tones of E-waste came annually to India. Delhi alone accounts for an estimated 12 thousand tons of computer waste। Priti Mahesh, senior programming officer of Toxic Link, claims that Mumbai and Chennai are on the top list of collecting e-waste and computers.

The dangers to Environment and health

Mohd.Shakeel, owner of spare parts shop at Turkman Gate, after taking out all the important parts, throws the leftover in the garbage. This is what he does everytime to dispose the remains of air conditioners, fridge, computers ,motors engines and other electronic goods. This is done by most of the spare parts shops in Turkman Gate area of Old Delhi .Burning leftover wires is a common practice to take out the metal and the leftover is dumped in the garbage or in the drains ।

The leftover flows through drains to ulimately go into the sea or rivers. " The effect will be felt by both humans and environment as acid bath and burning of wire are the common practice used by these people in the recovery of metal. This affects water bodies, agricultural land and the pollutants enter the food ultimately affecting human beings," asserts Preeti. About 95 percent of all e-waste in Delhi is handled by the informal sector where scrap dealers and recyclers work without safety equipment. This exposes them to harmful chemicals.

Professor Khalid Iftekar of Chemistry Department in Jamia Milia Islamia warns about the chemicals used in these electronic wastes as they may contain hydrocarbons that are hazardous for health.“Lead ,mercury, cadmium dioxide are the components which are used in electronic items until and unless cautiously used they can be proved fatal to the human body ।”

Dr Sanjay Gupta ,Senior Surgeon at ENT in Daryaganj warns ,“ Coming in contact with the fumes of hazardous chemicals can prove fatal in the long run . Respiratory diseases, itching of eyes etc are some common problems which people handling such waste generally face।"

Dr Parvez Akhtar who owns a private clinic at Seelampur , another area surrounded by scrap dealers, agrees that he come across a number of patients who either has respiratory problem or some allergies of skin । ''Most of the kabadiwalas who turn up to me usually suffer from respiratory diseases, cough, or allergies like fungal infection, lung infection, fungal election of skin etc.”

“Lead can damage nervous systems, blood systems, and kidneys in humans. Cadmium can cause various type of cancer in the long run too. Mercury can adversely affect and can damage organs." he adds.

Who is responsible for the leftover?

World is slowly realizing the hazards of the e-waste .Though Basel Convention looked into the control of hazardious waste but the super power USA has not signed it . Indian Supreme Court banned the import of hazardous waste in 1997but because lack of any stringent law the trade is still going on.

Shockingly no law exist and work for the disposal of E-waste . Krishan Lala, sanitation superintendent at MCD City Zone when asked about any special provision for the disposal of E- waste said that there is no separate body to pick up this waste and was clueless about its disposal. An MCD official on the bases of anonymity claims that garbage MCD picks before disposing never get segregated so there are 90% chances of those chemical infecting the soil and the rag pickers who would be picking them up.

One cannot avoid coming in contact with these chemicals but every possible precaution should be taken to avoid the harmful effects. Providing some precautionary measures professor Khalid adds, “ While working on spare parts of electronic goods wearing of mask and glows is a must .”

But this is not a case practically followed. Mohd. Shakeel says casually, “There is no time to think about the health hazards. I am working on these for 8 years now"