Prior to the entry-into-force of the MC, India had implemented several environmental regulations (the term “regulation” is used here in a generic sense to include different regulatory instruments such as statutes, rules, and regulations) which focus on various kinds of pollutants including those specified in several MEAs such as the Rotterdam, Basel, and Stockholm Conventions. Unlike the pollutant-specific MEAs and their management strategies, Indian environmental regulations have broad scopes and coverages and usually their implementations and action plans focus on the overall problem of the environmental pollution management instead of managing a single specific pollutant such as mercury in the MC. In such a regulatory set-up, implementation of action plans to manage a specific chemical pollutant or a group of pollutants [such as Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs)] becomes challenging due to absence of dedicated management strategies and their adequate surveillance. Nevertheless, the wide coverage of existing Indian environmental regulations is relevant to the successful implementation of various mercury management actions specified in the MC. At this initial stage of the MC’s implementation, it is crucial that coherence between Indian regulations and the substantive obligations of the MC is established. For this purpose, in this section we summarize existing Indian environmental regulations as well as their context and relevance to the implementation of the MC in India.
The existing Indian environmental regulations that are relevant to the MC can be categorized based on their role in managing: (i) consumption and emission of mercury and its compounds; (ii) supply and trade of products containing mercury and its compounds; (iii) waste containing mercury and its compounds; (iv) manufacturing processes in which mercury and its compounds are used; (v) ASGM activities; (vi) rights of vulnerable populations including tribal communities affected by the activities involving mercury and its compounds; (vii) safety of workers handling mercury and its compounds, etc. In regard to these important aspects of mercury management, a summary of relevant Indian regulations is presented in Table 1.
The MC follows the structure of the Basel, Rotterdam, and Stockholm Conventions and sets out similar basic substantive obligations for parties to manage mercury pollution, while providing some differentiation and flexibility in specific substantive provisions, as well as provisions to mobilize financial resources, within their capabilities, for implementation in developing countries. The similarities among these multilateral agreements (Basel, Rotterdam, and Stockholm Conventions vs. Minamata Convention) exist in terms of activities pertaining to mercury wastes, environmentally sound interim storage of mercury, financial resources, awareness-raising and technical assistance including regional centers, etc. . India is a party to all these conventions and their enforcement in India has led to formulating and amending several important environmental regulations to manage pollution threats from a variety of hazardous substances, for example POPs . However, the implementation of these MEAs in India has not been really effective, which is clearly evident from the fact that the Indian environment and human population is highly exposed to pollutants listed in these MEAs . The lack of comprehensive information and effective management strategies, under-enforcement of existing regulations, and flaws in governing structure impede the actions supporting effective implementation of these MEAs in India [33, 35].
One of the most relevant articles of the MC to the Indian situation is Article 8, which recommends controlling and, where feasible, reducing emissions of mercury and its compounds to the atmosphere. The article also obliges the parties to the convention to prepare and implement a national action plan (NAP) for managing mercury emissions, as soon as practicable but no later than 10 years after the entry-into-force of the MC. The NAP interventions for mercury pollution management and control, depending on the national circumstances, include establishing a coordinating mechanism and organization process; developing a national overview of the ASGM sector (including baseline estimates of mercury use and practices); setting goals, national objectives and reduction targets; formulating an implementation plan; and developing an evaluation mechanism for the NAP . To do so, some of the suggested measures are to control emissions from point sources such as coal-fired power plants, coal-fired industrial boilers, smelting and roasting processes used in the production of non-ferrous metals, waste incineration facilities, and cement clinker production facilities. In fact, these are the major sources of mercury emissions in India and account for more than 50% of the total mercury emissions to the environment. If effectively implemented, the already existing relevant Indian regulations will play an important role in reducing such large mercury emissions. The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981, in India confers and assigns power and functions to Pollution Control Boards (at the National and State level) for the prevention, control, and abatement of air pollution. Under the provisions of this Act, the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) sets national ambient air quality standards and is responsible for both testing air quality and assisting the government in policy implementation to meet set standards. In addition to the Air Act, the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, in India serves as an umbrella act for a variety of environmental issues and empowers the central government to establish authorities charged with the mandate of preventing environmental pollution in all its forms and tackle specific environmental problems nationwide . Article 9 of the MC concerns controlling and reducing the release of mercury and its compounds to land and water. The relevant Indian regulation to manage and control mercury released to the water resources in India is the Water (Prevention and Control of pollution) Act, 1974. This regulation aims to prevent and control water pollution in any form and to maintain/restore wholesomeness of water in India by establishing Pollution Control Boards at the National and State levels which monitor and enforce policies and water quality standards in this regard.
Mercury release from wastes (industrial, municipal, electronics and electrical equipment, and biomedical) is a prominent issue in rapidly transiting economies like India which requires a well-structured and modern waste management capacity as well as regulations. The primary regulation related to the management of hazardous wastes (generated during the manufacturing processes of the commercial products such as petroleum, paints, pharmaceuticals, electronics, etc.) in India is the Hazardous and Other Wastes (Management, Handling and Transboundary Movement) Rules, 2016. This regulation defines hazardous wastes based on their characteristics, generation processes, and quantity. Within the scope of this regulation, mercury is listed among hazardous wastes generated in one of the listed 36 industrial processes. Some of the components of this regulation related to transboundary movement of hazardous wastes and their disposal are in line with India’s commitment to the Basel Convention that lists mercury waste among hazardous wastes prohibited either for import and export or import only with a prior-informed consent by the responsible authorities. In addition, this regulation also lists mercury-containing waste in the list of hazardous wastes which require registration for recycling/reprocessing. The regulation also describes the responsibilities of the waste generator for the handling of hazardous waste and procedures for the management of waste generated. Moreover, it also specifies the guidelines for identifying the contaminated sites where discharge of any environmental pollutant in excess of the prescribed standards occurs or is apprehended to occur due to any accident or other unforeseen act or event . Identification of contaminated sites using appropriate strategies by the signatory parties is advised in Article 12 of the MC. Another regulation which is related to mercury waste management in India and seems aligned to Article 11 of the MC is the Municipal Solid Waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 2016, which shall apply to every municipal authority responsible for collection, segregation, storage, transportation, processing, and disposal of municipal solid wastes (MSWs). In relation to mercury pollution, this regulation provides specifications for the landfill sites in terms of groundwater quality, which should be periodically monitored to ensure that there is no contamination beyond the acceptable limits decided by the National/State pollution control boards or committees. A regulation important from the point of mercury waste management is the Bio-Medical Waste (Management and Handling) Rules 2016, which include 17 rules related to duties of a person having administrative control over the institution and the premises generating bio-medical waste; they also include rules that specify the responsibilities of concerned authorities and guidelines for various stages of bio-medical waste management. The E-waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 2016, another regulation related to mercury waste management in India, describes the responsibilities of e-waste producers, dealers, collection centers, refurbishers, dismantlers, recyclers, auctioneers and bulk consumers involved in the manufacturing, sales, purchasing and processing of electrical and electronic equipment or components as described in one of its Schedules .
The MC, in addition to controlling and managing mercury pollution from point sources, also obliges parties to take necessary steps to ensure the control and restriction in trade of mercury and mercury products such as compact fluorescent lamps, thermometers, dental amalgams, etc. Concerning the trade of mercury and its compounds, which is under the obligations of Articles 3 and 4 of the MC, India’s Foreign Trade (Development and Regulation) Act, 1992, and the Export Import policy (or Foreign Trade Policy; EXIM Policy 2015–2020) provide relevant guidance and procedures. The export policy only allows unhindered and free export of the goods that are not listed in the categories (specified by the ITC-HS) of restricted and prohibited goods and goods for exclusive trading through State Trading Enterprises. In addition, under the Customs Act, 1962, any imported or exported good can be subjected to chemical or other tests for the purpose of assessment of further decision on importation or exportation of the good. The import of mercury-based agro-chemicals is prohibited in India under the Central Insecticides Act, 1968, which regulates the import, manufacture, sale transport, distribution, and use of insecticides to prevent risk to humans.
The primary objective of the MC is to protect human health from mercury pollution. Article 16 of the MC encourages parties to promote the development and implementation of strategies and programs to identify and to protect populations at risk from mercury pollution. Indian regulations that can be linked to Article 16 do not necessarily identify the populations at risk, but they mostly regulate the safety of the human population in terms of either dietary exposure or occupational exposure. For example, the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, 1954, seeks to prevent the adulteration of any article used as food or drinks for human consumption excluding drugs and water. In addition, the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006, consolidates the laws relating to establishing food safety standards to regulate manufacturing, storage, distribution, sale, and import of food items. According to this regulation, the maximum acceptable quantity of mercury in fish and other food items is 0.5 ppm (by weight) and 1.0 ppm (by weight), respectively, whereas the acceptable quantity of methylmercury (a more toxic form of mercury) in all food items is 0.25 ppm (by weight).
Concerning the occupational exposure, the Factories Act, 1948, and the Mines Act, 1952, have provisions to ensure the health, safety, and welfare of all workers while they are at work. These regulations include provisions for arrangements to ensure safety and absence of risk to health in connection with use, handling, storage, and transport of articles and substances, as well as provisions to provide information, instructions, training, and supervisions to workers to ensure their safety and health. The description of occupational safety has been also advocated in regulations which are related to waste management, such as the Municipal Solid Wastes (Management and Handling) Rules, 2016, which specifies the safety provisions including periodic health inspections of workers at the landfill sites.
To safeguard the health of the general public from chemical accidents, following the recommendations of the Chemical Accidents (Emergency Planning, Preparedness, and Response) Rules, 1996, Crisis Groups at the National, State, District, and local levels have been formed in India. Some of the important functions of these groups are to provide expert guidance for handling major chemical accidents, to monitor the post-accident situation, etc. The Public Liability Insurance Act, 1991, a regulation which plays a role in the aftermath of a chemical disaster, provides relief (mostly in financial forms) to the victims of chemical disasters due to handling of hazardous substances and obliges the industry/factory owner to obtain a Public Liability Insurance Act Policy before they commence to handle any hazardous substance.
To support India’s obligations under Articles 3 and 7 of the MC, related to mining activities consuming mercury (for example, the ASGM activities), the Mines Act, 1952, and the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957, in India regulate and manage any type of mining operations through Mining Boards and Committees. These Acts provide provisions that prescribe the duties of the owner to manage mines and mining operations and the health and safety in mines. Although India does not have mercury mines, the role of Indian mining regulations is vital in management and restrictions of mercury usage in ASGM activities which have been reported in many regions of India and have been found responsible for up to 115,000 estimated disability-adjusted life years (DALY) [30, 40]. The effective implementation of Indian mining regulations that are more than a half-century old might need a reassessment so that they would be better aligned with the needs of the MC.
The MC sets out a range of measures related to the management of mercury pollution and of exposure of humans and the environment. It is obvious that not all these measures are covered within the existing national environmental and health regulations. Fundamentally, the existing relevant Indian regulations lack enforcement of a system that clearly identifies the important sources of mercury emissions and release in India. This is evident by the fact that only estimates and no real-time measurements of mercury emissions and releases from various primary and secondary sources are available from India. The same situation exists for the data on trade and consumption of mercury and its compounds in different sectors in India. The availability of such datasets is in fact the foremost necessity in planning the management and mitigation of any environmental crisis. Similarly, environmental and human biomonitoring to map the extent of mercury exposure has not been given enough priority by the executing agencies of various environmental and health regulations. The MC advises to develop mercury-free alternatives in industrial, domestic, and health sectors that are technically and economically feasible, but this is far away from the direct jurisdiction of the Indian regulatory system, which is largely engaged in enforcing laws. At the same time, even if some of the existing national regulations overlap with some of the provisions of the MC, their poor execution does not effectively contribute to the MC’s success. The episode of the mercury spill from a thermometer manufacturing unit in Kodaikanal in Southern India in 2001 [41, 42] and how the mercury pollution caused by this episode has been handled is an example that demonstrates the corporate negligence and the inadequacy of management actions that are typical of a developing country .