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India opts out of mercury control for coal industry?

 

Asian Age, Delhi, Saturday 30th November 2013

Is the ailing coal industry the main reason why India failed to sign the multilateral global Minamatta Convention (MC) which serves to phase out products that use mercury and also curb mercury emissions?

The consultancy firm KPMG has calculated in a new report that the total loss of output for captive coal mines has cost the Indian exchequer `1.46 lakh crore.

Officials from the ministry of environment and forests(MoEF) and the ministry of coal had attended all the five rounds of inter-governmental consultations and had been vocal in lending their support for the evolving of this new treaty which has been signed and adopted in Japan by over 100 countries on October 11 2013.

While mercury is recognised as a toxic heavy metal, and the officials are known to over all agree to phasing it use in products such as batteries, health care instruments and decrease its quantity in lighting products such as CFL lamps, they were not happy about the references that coal emissions containing mercury must also be phased out by 2020

Ravi Aggarwal, heading NGO Toxics Link, which has attended all these inter-governmental meets, believes, “The treaty does not bind us to take action today. All it is saying is that since mercury is extremely toxic even in low quantities, we should use safer alternatives.”

“India is using upwards of 150 tons of mercury annually from which over 60 tons is used in coal fired plants. Between 20-30 tons per annum is being used in hospitals and in ayurveda. The treaty lays emphasis on the safe disposal of mercury and on cleaning up of contaminated sites,” Mr Aggarwal added.

China which uses 1500 tons of mercury annually has also signed the treaty.

The Indian government, sources say, has decided to play it safe.

While the MoEF is in agreement with the need to control mercury emissions and are worried that it is being found in foods like milk and water, an energy deficient country like India, does not want to risk opening its coal industry to scrutiny.

Said one official, ` It might take almost two years before the ban on production and trade of mercury comes into force as the treaty gets operational only when 50 countries ratify the treaty. But India is so dependent on coal that it cannot afford to make commitments it may not be able to meet.’

While the MoEF has been internally recommending reduction of coal emissions especially controlling sulphur dioxide, they too have agreed to toe the line.