At the invitation of the Government of India, Mr Okechukwu Ibeanu, the Special Rapporteur on the adverse effects of the movement and dumping of toxic and dangerous products and wastes on the enjoyment of human rights conducted a country visit to India from 11 to 21 January 2010.
The purpose of the mission was to examine the adverse effects that hazardous activities, such as shipbreaking and the recycling of electrical and electronic waste (e-waste), have on the enjoyment of human rights of countless individuals working in these sectors or living close to the places where these activities take place. During the mission, the Special Rapporteur met with a wide range of Government representatives and non-State actors, and visited an e-waste recycling facility in Roorkee, informal small-scale laboratories for the dismantling and recycling of electronic products at Shastri Park in the suburb of the capital, a facility for the treatment, storage and disposal of hazardous wastes in Ankleshwar, and a number of shipbreaking yards in Alang and Mumbai.
In his report (A/HRC/15/22/Add.3) to the 15th Session of the UN Human Rights Council in September 2010, the Special Rapporteur welcomed the significant progress India has made in the area of the management and disposal of hazardous products and wastes. India has developed a comprehensive legal framework to protect human rights and ensure the environmentally sound management of hazardous products and wastes throughout their life cycle. With specific regard to shipbreaking, the Special Rapporteur noted with satisfaction the improvement of the health and safety conditions in Alang/Sosiya, as well as the efforts made by the regulatory authority and the industry to improve the health and quality of life of workers and their families. With regard to e-waste, the Special Rapporteur welcomed the various initiatives undertaken by Indian authorities to address the e-waste problem in India, and in particular the elaboration of the draft rules on the environmentally sound management and disposal of e-waste.
Despite the progress made, the Special Rapporteur identified a number of key challenges. National legislation on waste management and health and safety at work is not effectively implemented, and the current institutional framework appears inadequate to respond to the health and environmental challenges posed by the generation, management, handling, transport and disposal of toxic and dangerous products and wastes. The health and safety situation prevailing at the shipbreaking yards continues to remain critical, especially in Mumbai, where the working conditions and the quality of facilities remain highly inadequate for guaranteeing health and safety at work and an adequate standard of living for those employed in the shipbreaking sector. The Special Rapporteur noted that at present, the existing legal framework is not sufficient to ensure the environmentally sound management and disposal of e-waste and expresses his concerns about the extremely dangerous recovery processes and techniques used in the informal e-waste recycling sector, as well as about the widespread contamination caused by the unsound disposal of e-waste into the environment.
The Special Rapporteur made a number of recommendations including urging Government of India (i) take all appropriate measures to give full effect to international human rights treaties to which India is a party in domestic law; and (ii) ratify the Convention concerning Occupational Safety and Health and the Working Environment, 1981 (No. 155) and the Convention concerning Safety in the Use of Chemicals at Work, 1990 (No. 170).
Noting the view expressed by the Supreme Court Monitoring Committee on Management of Hazardous Wastes that institutional failure at different levels has to be regarded as the main cause for weak application of existing laws for pollution control and environmental protection, the Special Rapporteur recommended that the role and functions of the central and state government institutions responsible for the implementation and enforcement of national legislation on hazardous substances and toxic waste management be better defined, and that appropriate mechanisms be developed to ensure better coordination and cooperation among these institutions.
The SR further recommended to take appropriate measures to curb illegal import of hazardous waste.