Online shopping giant Amazon India has been issued a showcause notice by the government for importing and reselling refurbished and used mobile phones and, along with 20 other e-commerce portals, has been directed to stop import of used electrical and electronic equipment (EEE). On September 23, the environment ministry issued a notice to Amazon “to stop the import/shipment of used and/or refurbished EEE immediately”, with a threat to initiate action against the company under Section 15 of the Environment (Protection) Act.
The ministry said it had come to its notice that Amazon was shipping used and/or refurbished mobile phones into the country for resale, which violated both Hazardous and Other Waste (Management & Transboundary Movement) Rules and E-Waste (Management and Handling) Rules. “You are directed to show cause why action shall not be initiated against you for the above stated violations within 15 days, failing which action shall be initiated,” says the order. Under Section 15 of the Environment (Protection) Act, the maximum punishment is five years in jail and/or Rs 1 lakh fine.
An Amazon spokesperson said, “We are compliant and will always remain compliant with local laws. Amazon.in is a marketplace where goods are all sold by third party sellers. However, we have noted the concerns flagged by the Ministry of Environment and are conducting a detailed evaluation, working closely with our sellers, partners and the government to ensure our commitment to compliance continues.”
On September 22, the ministry had issued notices to 21 e-commerce websites — including Amazon, Snapdeal, eBay, Olx and Quikr — to stop import of used and/or refurbished electrical and electronic equipment. Such products, it said, shall not be imported without prior approval of the ministry.
“In case the e-commerce fails to comply with the above directions from the date of issue of this direction, the ministry will be constrained to initiate proceedings against the said company under provisions of Section 5 of the Environment (Protection) Act,” says the September 22 order.
Under Hazardous Waste Rules, the ministry’s permission is mandatory for import/export of any waste item — including electrical and electronic equipment — for reuse, recycling, recovery and utilisation. However, the ministry’s approvals have been limited to actual users — for repair or R&D purposes or for import by defence and other ministries for strategic purposes.
It has never given permission for such imports for trading purposes and a proposal last year from Apple for import of used iPhones for sale in India was shot down by the government on the grounds that it would increase electronic waste in the country.
Under E-Waste rules, an EEE producer — either the brand owner, importer or retailer — needs to obtain Extended Producer Responsibility authorisation from the Central Pollution Control Board whereby the producer takes responsibility for collection and channelisation of e-waste generated from “end-of-life” products. The ministry’s move comes a year after Amazon India started selling refurbished smartphones from Samsung and Xiaomi. At that time, there was no dedicated section for refurbished phones. Now, on the Used & Refurbished Mobile Store, Amazon India sells used phones from firms including Motorola, Lenovo, Xolo, Asus, OnePlus, HTC, Micromax and LeEco.