There is a big market for cheap electronic goods
Shetty Sreenath is a worried man.
A time bomb is ticking in Bangalore, India's hi-tech capital, but most of its six million inhabitants are largely unaware of the threat.
Home to more than 1,200 foreign and domestic technology firms, Bangalore figures prominently in the danger list of cities faced with e-waste hazard.
"The end effects of electronic junk generated from obsolete computers and discarded electronic components are disastrous to our environment and people," says Mr Sreenath, acclaimed as an e-waste recycling expert.
"If we don't act now, we will have a polluted environment and lots of disabled children in the future," he warns.
Alarmed by the electronic pile up, Mr Sreenath has set up Asia's first e-waste crematorium, the Indian Computer Crematorium, in India's technology hub.
"Here we neither bury nor burn electronic waste. It is done through a mechanical dry recycling process," he says.
Domestic e-waste including computers, refrigerators, televisions and mobiles contain more than 1,000 different toxic materials.
Chemicals such as beryllium, found in computer motherboards, and cadmium in chip resistors and semiconductors are poisonous and can lead to cancer.
Chromium in floppy disks, lead in batteries and computer monitors and mercury in alkaline batteries and fluorescent lamps also pose severe health risks.
Officials of the state-run pollution board have woken up to the debilitating risk.
The authorities have cleared the establishment of a 120-acre e-waste disposal facility at Dobbspet, 45km from the city.
Many scrap dealers are unaware of the risks
The project is a cooperative effort of HAWA (Hazardous Waste Management Project), an Indo-German collaboration.
"E-waste is like slow poison. After 50 years what will happen to our environment?" asks the Pollution Board chairman, S Bhoomanand Manay, calling for a concerted effort by both government and private agencies to tackle the menace.
"Most of the industry, especially the IT companies, are vaguely aware of the problems of e-waste," says Mr Manay.
The Pollution Board has initiated talks with top companies based in Bangalore, including Infosys, Wipro and IBM.
"We plan to start a door-to-door public awareness programme. It is a serious issue," Mr Manay says.
As many as 1,000 tons of plastics, 300 tons of lead, 0.23 tons of mercury, 43 tons of nickel and 350 tons of copper are annually generated in Bangalore.
More than 300 small industrial units operate in metal extraction waste from dumped computers.
"The waste generated from metal extraction is mostly let into sewage or storm water drains," says Mr Manay.
Officials say second-hand computers from the West get dumped in India, most of it is done illegally by grey market operators.
Pakistan, Bangladesh and China are the other disposal markets in Asia for obsolete electronic goods.
Hundreds of recyclers of discarded computers and electronic components across India sell second-hand parts to private computer assemblers.
Most of the recyclers work with their bare hands and extract precious metals such as gold and silver using crude chemical processes.
"This is my bread earner. I am not aware of the health risks," says Jabbar, a scrap dealer of electronic gadgets.
"Those who cannot afford to buy new goods come here. I don't see anything wrong in this business."
"It is very sad. Most of them are uneducated," says Mr Sreenath.
"We are tying to create awareness. In fact, a programme for schoolchildren has been started through a trust called Masha Allah. Children should know what damage even a used battery can cause," he says.
India's hardware organisation, the Manufacturers Association of Information Technology (MAIT), has persuaded the government in Delhi to set up a federal agency to handle waste disposal.
Toxics Link, a Delhi-based non-governmental organisation, says India generates $1.5bn worth of e-waste annually, with1,050 tons of electronic scrap dumped by manufacturers and assemblers.