As if India did not have enough concerns about what to do with its garbage, a recent conference in Canberra, Australia, has been told that it is now the country of choice for the illegal dumping of e-waste.
This latest mountain of trash — everything from clapped out refrigerators to last year’s smartphones — are being ‘imported’ from Western countries taking advantage of India’s ‘throw away’ culture and lax regulations.
The conference, which had the theme World Making and the Environment in the Asia-Pacific Region, was told that a staggering 90 per cent of the world’s electronic waste is ending up in India.
Australian Nation University academic Assa Doron said people in Western countries liked to throw away goods and forget about them, while engaging in “pious everyday rituals of recycling”.
However, while the West might be using India as an electronic waste dump, the country itself has to bear some of the blame for its failure to deal properly with its own domestic rubbish.
Ride on many trains in India and you will see passengers throwing drink and food cartons out of the windows. As one traveller said: “What else can we do? There is no proper disposal. If we throw it out onto the track, perhaps someone will come along and pick it up. Perhaps they will be able to recycle it.”
The Ganges River, sacred to Hindus, is still a repository for human and latterly industrial waste. The devout, who bath in it to wash away their sins, risk all kinds of infections resulting from their piety.
In recent decades central Governments have tried unsuccessfully to tackle the problem. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose constituency is the holy city of Varanasi on the Ganges, was elected in 2014 with a pledge to make the river run pristine from the mountains to the sea.
However, while there have been a number of highly-publicised cosmetic clean-ups, the crucial work of building sewage works and treatment plants for the human and industrial waste dumped into the river every day, has made a faltering start.
Some observers blame the country’s stifling bureaucracy rather than Government inaction, with Modi expressing shock to close advisers at the lack of enterprise from his public servants. The PM has intervened personally to speed the process with a plan to give the job of building and running urban sewage treatment plants to the private sector, rather than municipalities.
Back at the Canberra conference co-convener, Dipesh Chakrabarty was saying that because of their huge size India and China would be the two nations deciding the future of the planet.
“If they don't give up on coal and fossil fuels, we're all done for," Professor Chakrabarty said.
Just another problem on the already brimming plate of the Government in New Delhi.