NGT issues notice to MNRE, Centre on use of hazardous metals in solar modules

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The National Green Tribunal (NGT) on Tuesday issued a notice to the Centre, Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE), Ministry of Commerce, and Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) on a plea seeking to prohibit usage, manufacture and import of solar modules or glass containing antimony —a heavy metal. The plea said that with increasing use of solar modules and panels under National Solar Mission, the scientific disposal of antimony poses several problems for environment.

Solar modules comprise of photovoltaic (PV) cells and are used in a large PV array along with PV panels.

A three-member bench headed by NGT chairperson Justice Swatanter Kumar heard the matter briefly and issued notices on Tuesday. The petition claimed that antimony was currently being disposed off in landfills along the solar panels that were crushed after use.

“Six Gigawatts of solar modules were imported from China last year, and each GW has four million modules that weigh 52,000 tonnes,” the petition said.

It added in its prayers that CPCB should be directed to amend the E-Waste Rules, 2016, to bring antimony within scope of Rules 16 pertaining to hazardous substances, and that CPCB should pass directions to permit import of only those solar modules that do not contain antimony.

The solar energy market in India relies heavily on import of solar modules and PV’s from China. India also faced a major setback in World Trade Organization last year after it rejected its appeal against its ruling that the National Solar Mission violated global trade rules by imposing domestic content restrictions on production of solar cells. The US had approached WTO against what it said was a protectionist regime in India for its domestic manufacturers of solar industry components.

In its other prayers, the plea sought random sampling of solar modules with the collaboration of Indian Institute of Technology to verify existence of hazardous substances, including antimony. “Direct respondents and environmental monitoring agencies to immediately undertake remedial measures so as to limit the damage caused to the environment by submitting an action plan showing how to deal with future disposal of solar modules and solar panels,” the petition said.


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