Importing of hazardous waste – Some queries to authorities


Last week, there were several news reports both in the print media and the electronic media describing the importing of about 230 containers filled with hazardous waste from the United Kingdom during the last few years. According to these reports, about 100 containers are still lying within the Port premises while about 130 containers are lying in a land belonging to an industry in Katunayake while 57 had been re-exported. The imported waste was claimed to be used mattresses and carpets, but actually contained hazardous waste including hospital waste emanating a foul smell, according to Central Environmental Authority (CEA) who had examined the cargo


It appears that these containers had been imported without any inspection by the Customs as per Gazette notification issued in 2013, which exempted the import of discarded matter from the Customs Ordinance, the Monetary Control Act and the Import and Export Control Act (The Island of 22.07.2019). A former Customs Officer was heard over the electronic media saying that when he attempted to detain the containers, he was told by the Customs Legal Division that it cannot be done according to the said Gazette notification and the containers were released. According to a reputed Environment Lawyer heard over electronic media, the said gazette notification is illegal as it violates the relevant Act.

Had the Customs Dept alerted the CEA at that stage, the questioned containers could have been detained for non-compliance with the provisions of the "Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal" of which Sri Lanka is a Party. According to the Basel Convention, import of any hazardous waste needs prior approval of the importing country’s competent authority of the Basel Convention, which is the CEA. A spokesman of the CEA has confirmed that CEA’s permission had never been sought to import any container load of garbage, as reported in the media.

This issue brings a number of questions.

1. What was the necessity for a minister to gazette regulations exempting the import of waste material from customs inspection simply because there is money in it?

2. Why did the Legal Draftsman who is required to draft regulations to be consistent with the law of the country approve the draft, alleged to be illegal, submitted by the ministry to be gazetted?

3. Why did the Parliament approve the regulation if it was contrary to the law when it was submitted by the minister for approval by the Parliament as required by the relevant Act?

4. Why did the Customs release the containers after detecting hazardous substance in them without verifying from the CEA as to whether CEA approval was obtained for their import?

5. Why didn’t CEA, being the National Competent Authority for the Basel Convention in Sri Lanka, initiate a dialogue with the Customs on the provisions in the Basel Convention enabling it to take prompt action against import of waste substances?

6. Doesn’t the CEA have an independent mechanism under the Basel convention to monitor import of waste substance without having to wait till media exposes such events?

7. What is the penalty the importer is liable to pay in the event CEA takes legal action against him for importing hazardous substance without their approval?

8. How would the CEA propose to dispose this container loads of hazardous waste safely in the event the importer fails to re-export them to the UK as directed by the CEA?

9. Would the authorities divulge the names of the company or companies and the politicians who supported them who were able to get new regulations introduced to import waste substance without subjecting to customs inspection in order to make a quick buck at the expense of the health of the people in the country?

10. Would the President in his capacity as the minister in charge of the environment portfolio take immediate action to revoke the questionable gazette notification for the safety of future generations?

It will be gracious on the part of these authorities if they respond to these queries.

Dr. Janaka Ratnasiri


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