Located in the suburban part of East Delhi, old Seelampur is the home of India’s largest e-waste dump yard. Walking down the main road, one will come across a drain which ultimately opens to an alley, which the locals refer to as 4 Number Gali. (The 4th by-lane). When you enter the alley, you’ll find the pathway filled with broken cell phones, wires, and batteries. Every day a hundred metric tons of waste are accumulated in the area to be recycled. There are factories where men and women can be seen engrossed with dismantling and organising them.
From computers to copper wire, batteries to mobile phones, circuit boards to inverters, this market is famous for recycling huge quantities of unorganised products. In last two decades, it’s been estimated that more than 50,000 people are making a living out of this waste.
India is the third largest e-waste produce in the world, producing around 2 million tons annually. A closer look reveals that Delhi alone generates 200,000 tons each year, while 57% of the informal processing units are in Seelampur. Being such a large and widespread industry has lead to erratic regulations. Every day hundreds of men, women and children hunt for lead, copper, silver, and other metals among the electronic debris. Many phones that we throw away are resold from this market as a second-hand product. They earn around Rs 500-Rs 1000 (roughly 6-12 USD) per day, with women and children receiving even less, depending upon the metal they extract.
Even being the largest e-waste hub, Seelampur suffers from irregularities in terms of environmental and health issues. The workers working in the factories are prone to health hazards due to the toxicity of metals. The products which are broken down are often discarded in the land and water, eventually contaminating it. These situations are often the root cause of the many allergies and skin conditions common to the workers.
In some ways, these underpaid labourers are vital for the economy, and they add value to the e-waste by customising and reselling it. The government, rather than declaring this work illegal, could help them by providing better alternatives and teaching them safer handling and disposal practices.