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DoT must be consulted by MoEFCC re telecom e-waste, say telcos

Telecom operators are taking a tough stand on a notification issued by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) on the implementation of e-waste rules for the industry, fearing that they may affect mobile services, even as companies are investing in the 5G rollout. These rules came into effect on April 1.

The industry body, the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), plans to make a presentation before the MoEFCC, arguing that for telecom equipment, the Department of Telecommunications (DoT), the nodal department, should be involved in determining the ‘end of life cycle’ of products — the number of years after which they have to be mandatorily discarded under the e-waste rules.

They complained that the MoEFCC did not consult the DoT or industry stakeholders before adding telecommunication products to the e-waste rules list.

Operators say that when previous versions of the e-waste rules impacted industries, such as ICT (information and communication
technology) equipment or consumer durables, the respective ministers were engaged in the consultation process and were part of the steering committee for making the final rules.

In the case of telecom, the DoT and telecom service stakeholders were not consulted. It has asked the MoEFCC to hold time-bound consultations with the industry and the DoT to discuss a feasible framework for processing e-waste in the telecom value chain.

This is the first time that telecom equipment, which includes crucial radios and base transceiver stations (BTS), has been bought under the purview of the notification. The latter enjoins that the manufacturer or producer must collect, dispose of, or recycle the e-waste.

Telecom players point out that such a move, which entails discarding 60 per cent of the total electric and electronic equipment placed in the market every year starting from 2023-24 and going up to 80 per cent from 2027-28 could seriously impact mobile services.

The reason is that there has been a huge expansion in network capacity in the past six years. The number of towers has gone up by over 60 per cent to 798,000 with the advent of 4G services and the beginning of 5G, and end-user equipment is deployed in nearly 100 million consumer premises.

COAI executives have been in urgent consultations with the MOEFCC, as well as the DoT, over the past few days. Speaking after his meeting with the secretary of the DoT, a senior COAI official said: “Our view is clear — only the DoT has the expertise to determine ‘the end of life cycle’ of telecom electronics like radios which require substantial investments.”

He added that the DoT’s Wireless Planning and Coordination wing and the Telecom Enforcement Resource and Monitoring cell are already responsible for overseeing the health of telecom electronics equipment (as well as radiation) and were the best placed to make the assessment.

He said that, unlike mobile phones which have a life cycle of five years and are a commodity, radios and other electronic components in the BTS are all integrated within the overall telecom network and cannot be junked separately as it would impact the entire network.

The COAI’s latest stand is harder than earlier. In a letter in April to the MOEFCC, it asked merely for an extension of the e-waste waste disposal rules by a year to April 1, 2024, for telecom network operators, broadcast service operators, and telecom equipment manufacturers, among others.

However, even then, it insisted in the letter that a thorough consultation process should be held with the industry and the DoT, given that the telecom industry was being brought under the rules for the first time. Business Standard

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