Re-imagining e-waste for a faster #DigitalIndia

By Arvind Gupta & Sapan Jain

The 4th Industrial Revolution is taking the world by storm and it has digital technologies at its core; it is the combination of data, internet sensors, cloud computing, analytics, artificial intelligence, and virtual reality combined with 3D printing, robotics, advanced materials and energy storage will have a multiplier effect on economic output and society. Digital India is a holistic vision to harness the energy of its demographic talent and potential of digitization for India. From affordable & ubiquitous connectivity, to locally manufactured devices and consumable content in all languages and forms, the vision is of a digitally empowered society solving problems of financial inclusion, access to healthcare, quality education, clean energy, agriculture information systems amongst others. Digital India will leapfrog India into socio-economically digitally empowered society in the next five years by enabling consumers, citizens, small businesses, traders and farmers to harness technology for efficiency and productivity. Today, we stand on the threshold of such a transformation, credit to the vision of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Demonetisation has given a much required push for consumption to be digitally driven and payments to go cashless. Every Indian will have access to full financial services through the revolutionary IndiaStack. IndiaStack is open innovation at its best, with tight integration of Aadhaar-identity, digital locker-paperless and payment systems available to all to build their innovations on top of these platforms.

Banks will open new accounts using Aadhaar-linked e-KYC mechanisms in a few minutes. Consumers will make payments to merchants using the Unified Payments Interface. They will be able to get credit, get all benefits directly credited to their accounts (DBT) and get life insurance and medical insurance, and have opportunities to invest their savings electronically. Merchants will receive payments digitally at the lowest costs possible. They can raise invoices with GST-enabled software and get appropriate tax credits in their bank accounts.

While the software infrastructure has been well developed, we still have a long road ahead in developing an indigenous hardware industry. We need to move up in the value chain of hardware design, development and manufacturing. Given the importance of semiconductors in every piece of hardware from a laptop to a Light Combat Aircraft, it is important we continue to build out local competence in core hardware technology from semiconductors to storage devices.

While the Government focuses on building this local infrastructure for manufacturing hardware, through attracting FDI and the “Make in India” campaign, there is an opportunity to fill the gap by re-deploying the existing IT assets that have been financially depreciated but still have another few years of functional life left. Today, most of these assets are confined to office backrooms lying idle or getting disposed for recycling or landfill as e-waste. Policies and incentives need to be designed to encourage the re-use of assets that can be re-deployed. This will not only help reduce e-waste generation but will also result in making technology more affordable to those who couldn’t have otherwise benefitted from it.

The startup ecosystem is in place to solve this problem, there needs to be policy clarity to make this happen. General awareness within enterprises and industry organization is also required to re-provision functional assets to village self-service kiosks, government schools and panchayats.

The revised e-waste rules released in 2016 has been a significant improvement over the past, however, there is still a significant room for improvement by bringing more clarity in the policies. The e-waste guidelines should be clearer in defining what is an e-waste. Ambiguity in e-waste definition is resulting in many companies declaring all used assets as e-waste, even if the asset can be re-deployed or sold for further use. This is not only resulting in value destruction but also converting functional assets into e-waste. Similarly, EOU policies related to disposal of capital goods are unintentionally incentivizing creation of e-waste out of functional machines.

In addition to clarity on the rules, the CSR guidelines should also encourage re-use and reduction of e-waste by allowing enterprises to take CSR credit for the amount of assets that they have re-deployed to other needy causes from certified re-furbishers. Creation of Re-Use Index on the lines of Carbon Credits could also be a progressive step taken to spread awareness and branding.

India is leading the world with its frugal and open innovation platforms having ability to operate at scale and affordability. Digital India is that major accelerator of economic and societal transformation, impacting all stakeholders by enhancing their quality of life. We need all steps possible to make this empowerment reach to every corner of India.

Also Read: India 5th largest e-waste producer globally

Arvind Gupta, BJP-IT CellArvind Gupta
sapan-jain_blubirchSapan Jain, CEO, BluBirch

(Arvind Gupta is an IIT-BHU graduate and Eisenhower Global Innovation Fellow. He tweets @buzzindelhi. Sapan Jain is also an IIT-BHU graduate and CEO of BluBirch. The views expressed are personal.)

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