New Delhi, November 4, 2003: India has earned the dubious distinction of becoming the biggest consumer in the world of a highly toxic and deadly substance: mercury.
What’s more appalling, while the world is dumping mercury on us, we have neither bothered to regulate its trade and use, nor inventorise its stocks in the country.
Imports of mercury to India have registered a six-fold increase in seven years: this has been brought to light by recently released data of the Directorate General of Commercial Intelligence and Statistics (DGCI&S), Kolkata. While the world is phasing out mercury and mercury products, we are phasing them in. At a Conference on Mercury Pollution in India organised on November 3, 2003 in New Delhi by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), Sunita Narain, Director, CSE said that this data emphatically pointed to only one thing: that India was rapidly becoming the world’s most preferred toxic dump for mercury.
According to the DGCI&S, between 1996 and 2002,
Mercury imports to India more than doubled from 254 tonnes to 531 tonnes
Organomercury compound (pesticides, slimicides etc) imports increased a whopping 1,500 times from 0.7 tonnes to 1,312 tonnes
Imports of mercury containing products increased – for instance, mercury vapour lamp imports rose from 2,100 to 0.12 million and thermostat imports increased from 1.73 million to 2.51 million
Total imports of mercury and mercury compounds thus jumped from 285 tonnes to 1,858 tonnes – more than six times in seven years
Because of this dramatic rise in imports, India has now outstripped the US in mercury consumption. The total mercury consumed by the US in 1997-98 was 346 tonnes; US
Geological Survey reports register a declining trend in use from 1999 to 2003. In India, current mercury consumption ranges between 1,350-1,843 tonnes per annum. This is 50 per cent of the mercury produced in the world. India also processes nearly 70 per cent of the world’s mercury. We have become a willing buyer for this toxin (see table for the major exporters of mercury to India).