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Budget 2016: Time to create dedicated fund corpus for lifecycle management of electronic goods

Rohan Gupta, COO, Attero     February 26, 2016

Rohan Gupta
Recently, the Department of Electronics and Information Technology (DeitY) had announced a corpus fund of Rs 2200 crore under Electronics Development Fund to catalyze electronics research and manufacturing within country. No doubt, a laudable step. But it would have been great if there were some words about electronics waste management funding too.

Granted, the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) is supposed to tackle the problem generated by the electronics sector but then the government as a whole has to see things beyond products' life-cycle and also need to make provisions for electronics' end-of-life phase. Because when alive, electronic goods are life enhancing products but can be quite deadly for people and the planet upon their demise.

Unfortunately, just like most product centric management theories, which primarily focus on life-cycle management, the overwhelming focus of the economy has also been on raising the output of electronic goods but without really giving a thought about products' post life-cycle impacts. It would appear that tackling the growing menace of electronic waste is nobody's business. The two well-intentioned guidelines issued by MoEF in this regard have also been a whimper due to lax implementation.

The budgetary support for undertaking E-waste management as an organized activity has also been few and far between. There has never been any expression of intent on E-waste front in any of the budgetary speeches. This is despite the fact that India for a long time now has been one of the largest generators of E-waste globally. As per Central Pollution Control Board, we are now producing over 9 lakh tonnes of E-waste annually and growing at over 10 per cent rate. E-waste management also remains an overwhelming unorganized sector operation.

Downsides galore but there are also few positives with E-waste. They can be a good source for recovering metals and precious metals, thereby delaying depletion of non-renewable reserves. For example, a typical one tonne of E-waste consists of 50 per cent iron and steel, 21 per cent plastics and 13 per cent non-ferrous metals such as mercury, arsenic and lead.

And it may come as surprise to many that it's not individual households but the government, public and private (industrial) sector entities which contribute over 70 per cent of India's E-waste - which is all the more reason for the government to announce some concrete measures for this industry in the coming budget.

So where can the budget chip in. One, it can announce monetary incentives for persons as well as organizations providing E-waste handling and extraction techniques. This is important as E-waste handling is complex and often risky. To train people, there needs to be incentives. The schemes can be integrated with Skill India mission.

Another support can come up by giving concessional land for setting up E-waste management centres. Creation of a dedicated research and technology development fund for this sector will be another desired step. This fund should be utilized to encourage private sector to undertake R&D under public-private partnership programmes. Icing on the cake would be incentivising manufacturers who sincerely adopt the "Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR)" programme.

Rohan Gupta is COO, Attero.

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