Apple, Samsung and others have over $700 million worth of smartphones stuck at Indian customs for violating e-waste norms

Apple, Samsung and others have over $700 million worth of smartphones stuck at Indian customs for violating e-waste norms
Discarded phones pile up without proper waste managementWordPress/Chris Jordan

  • Tech companies may be in hot water with ₹50 billion worth of smartphones and electronic raw material being grounded at customs in India.
  • The Indian government suspended the import licenses of 10 companies on the grounds that e-waste regulations were being violated.
  • While companies argue that this is an overreaction, the government claims that there is little wiggle room when it comes to the law.
Smartphones and electronic raw materials amounting to over ₹50 billion ($720 million) are stranded at customs as the Indian government takes a strong stance against the violation of e-waste norms.

Ten companies — including Apple, Samsung, Vivo, HP and Motorola — are now stuck with suspended import permits after the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) found discrepancies in how e-waste was being managed by them.

In a notice issued on April 4, these companies were found to be in violation of extended producer responsibility (EPR) clauses of India’s e-waste management rules that came out in 2016.

Companies are crying foul asserting that the government could have just as easily issued penalties instead of suspending permits altogether, which will impact this quarters sales if left unrevoked.

If this stalemate continues and the government doesn’t revoke this order soon enough, the quarterly shipments of these companies will take a significant hit.

Pankaj Mohindroo, Chairman of Indian Cellular and Electronic Association (ICEA) told ET


The companies have reportedly been trying to untangle the issue with the government but have made little progress. They are claiming that this is an overreaction by the government since they have been exceeding their targets for e-waste collection and only faulted on minor compliance issues.

On the other hand, officials with the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEF), claim that the violations aren’t as minor as companies wish to portray.

For instance, the Kerala State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) found that operators are certain collection centres weren’t even aware that they had been designated to be an authorised collection point. And, since they were unaware, they had not collected any e-waste or passed it on to authorised recyclers.

You can’t expect each time you meet and say you need six more months. Once the e-waste management rules kicked in in December 2016, we were meeting the companies regularly and hand holding them. Can they do any sort of non-compliance in any of the developed world?

An official from the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change told ET

India’s e-waste management rules, which were enforced in March 2016, dictate that producers of electronic devices are the ones responsible for collection and returning the subsequent e-waste to the proper dismantlers.

It’s understandable that the government can no longer afford to be patient and India’s e-waste problem continues to worsen. On an annual basis, India is churning out more than two million tonnes of e-waste. By 2020, that number is expected to jump over the five million tonne marker.

The government is encouraging recycling of e-waste by creating dedicated spots for proper disposal, installing roadside e-waste drop boxes, identifying manufacturers with the capabilities to manage e-waste and dealers who can accept discarded gadgets.

Management of e-waste is all the more important in the backdrop of new e-waste categories emerging as technology gets more complex. Solar e-waste, for example, is completely unregulated at this point and is predicted to grow to 200,000 tonnes by 2030.

The only possible upside of the e-waste pile up is that it has the potential to create over half a million jobs by next year according to a report by the International Finance Corporation. But, those jobs would likely come with their own hazards.

See also:
Developing countries like India bear the brunt of global e-waste

Trashing up: India produces more e-waste than most of the world, says report

E-waste is a huge and growing problem - and the US is a big reason why