Bio-Medical Waste Management: A Social Responsibility and Legal Necessity
April 14, 2022 • Nikita Saha
AUTHOR'S PROFILE: PRATYUSH SACHAN, 2ND YEAR B.A. LL.B STUDENT, AMITY LAW SCHOOL, NOIDA.
India's medical treatment has been transformed from traditional and ayurvedic treatment to modern medicine. There have also been changes in the hospital's services from simply treating terminally ill patients to varied medical care and other services. These developments and an increasing number of patients due to an increase in population lead to increased medical waste in the environment. Development in medical science is a boon to humanity, but there are various negative aspects of development, such as the generation of infectious and hazardous medical waste. Failure to handle and recycle biomedical waste raises questions about the fundamental right to live in a clean environment and the corresponding fundamental duty to protect and improve the natural environment. This bio-medical waste has emerged as an important issue and concern for the government and the environment. There are various legislations to control and regulate this medical waste in India, starting from the Environment Protection Act of 1986, followed by the Biomedical Waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 1998 and its subsequent amendment in 2000, 2003, 2011, 2016, and 2018. Though Biomedical Waste (Management and Handling) Rules are in place, they have regretfully existed on paper. Proper legislation has not been implemented yet and remains ineffective across public and private hospitals, clinics, diagnostic centers, blood banks, etc. The production of biowaste needs to be disposed of. The problem arises when this hazardous biowaste has not been disposed of in the prescribed manner, and it can also lead to an epidemic. The issue of biomedical waste becomes more important after the breakdown of the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to a rapid increase of biomedical waste in the environment. The efforts should be from both sides, legal institutions as well as from the society.
VIOLATION OF CONSTITUTIONAL & HUMAN RIGHTS
Under the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal [I], this improper management of bio-medical waste is recognized as a category of toxic waste. India is a party to the Basel Convention signed on 15th March 1990 and ratified on 24th June 1992. Thus India must adhere to the norms of the convention. The Parliament of India has the power to make laws to implement treaties, norms, agreements, and conventions.[ii]. Section 6, 8, and 25 of the environmental protection act, 1986 laid down the procedure established to frame rules as to the handling and management of hazardous biowaste[iii]. Using the procedure established government of India framed the Bio-Medical Waste (Management and Handling) Rules in 1998 to regulate and control the biowaste management system in India. However, this legislation lacks the implementation of government policies and laws. This legislation remained on paper, and proper implementation has not been done due to which biowaste is mismanaged rampantly in India. Mismanagement of biowaste does not only adversely affect the environment and public health, but it also affects the fundamental right to live in a clean environment guaranteed.[iv] by part III of our constitution. Moreover, rampant mismanagement of biowaste is a gross violation of Articles 21, 48A, and 51A(g).
The term Biomedical waste has been defined in Rule 3(f) of the Biomedical waste management rule, 2016. The hospital industry is one of the growing industries in India, so it becomes essential to properly manage and dispose of biomedical waste produced by hospitals which can be highly infectious. The waste from hospitals includes a distinct kind of fluids, metals, and infectious material, different from regular household waste. If bio-medical waste is not disposed of according to the prescribed manner, it can cause environmental and public health issues and epidemics. Biomedical waste includes needles, blood samples, pathological waste, and infectious waste.
DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE 1998 RULES AND THE 2016 RULES
The biomedical waste (management and handling) rule was framed in 1998 to control and regulate biomedical waste management in India. However, rules have not been able to reach the goals, leading to an amendment to rules from time to time. Earlier in 1998, only health care facilities (HCF) with more than one thousand beds came under the rule, but changes were made in 2016, and now every health care facility (HFC) comes under the ambit of the rule. ‘Occupier' is defined under Rule 3(m) of the Biomedical waste management rule, 2016. Under Rule 4(1) of Biomedical waste management rules, 2016 duties of occupier are mentioned, which were not there in 1998 rules. Occupier owns a duty to society and is bound to perform duties mentioned in the rule. In 1998 rules waste was vaguely categorized into ten types, while in 2016, rules waste was categorized explicitly into four types. One thousand nine hundred ninety-eight rules were only applied to institutions with more than 1000 beds, while in 2016, rules applied to every institution dealing with biomedical waste. No annual report was made at the end of the year to compare the growth of disposal of biomedical waste in 1998 rules, but in 2016 amendment was made an, an annual report is mandatory to be made at the end of the year, which helps in keeping track of disposal of biomedical waste.
CONSTITUTION MANDATES FOR PROTECTION OF THE ENVIRONMENT
- Article 21
Article 21 is a fundamental right guaranteed under part III of our constitution and one of the fundamental rights, the right to life. In Subhash Kumar vs. the State of Bihar [v], The Supreme Court held that the right to enjoy pollution-free water and air and the right to live in a clean environment for full enjoyment of life is a part of the right to life under Article 21 of our constitution. Mismanagement of bio-medical waste is a gross violation of article 21.
- Article 47
Article 47 is a Directive Principle of the State Policy (DPSP) that directs the state to raise the living standard of its people and public health. This article mainly talks about public health, which shows that bio-medical waste is essential in public health. The lack of implementation of rules regulating bio-medical waste raises a question to article 47 of our constitution.
- Article 48A
Article 48A is also a directive principle of state policy (DPSP) that directs the state to protect and improve the environment and save forests in our country. Article 48A was added to our constitution by the 42nd amendment act 1976, the backdrop of the Stockholm conference on the environment. Biomedical waste (BMW) negatively affects the environment; infectious and hazardous biomedical waste damage the environment.
CHALLENGES IN BIO-MEDICAL WASTE MANAGEMENT
Bio-medical waste is a tiny part of total waste generated by the municipal but needs special handling and disposal procedures due to its infectious nature. If infectious waste like biomedical waste is not disposed of according to the prescribed manner, it can cause severe damage to public health and the environment. Although the central pollution control board came up with the biomedical waste (handling and management) rule in 1998 and amended several times by the ministry of environment and forest (MoEF), problems related to management remain in our society. Despite the strict legislation related to bio-medical waste, the problems do not solve due to the lack of implementation of rules and regulations. Legislations are of no use without the proper implementation of laws. The significant challenges in reducing bio-medical waste are lack of implementation of laws, lack of technical education, dumping of medical waste with municipal waste, and lack of comprehensive data. Regular collection of bio-medical waste should be done because of its infectious nature. Irregularity in the collection of waste also leads to increased infectious waste in the environment and causes severe damage to public health. Another major challenge faced in bio-medical waste management is insufficient space. As many clinics are situated in small and congested areas, the lack of sufficient space for the segregation of waste becomes a significant problem for clinics.
SOLUTIONS TO TACKLE MISMANAGEMENT OF BIOMEDICAL WASTE
In-country with a complex health care system and mixed economies like India, management and proper disposal of biomedical waste becomes a significant problem for society at large. Harmful effects of mismanagement of bio-medical waste might not be visible immediately but can be harmful to the environment and human health in the long term. It is essential to take significant steps regarding collecting and disposing of bio-medical waste. Undoubtedly, there is various strict legislation regarding the proper disposal of biomedical waste; they all should be appropriately implemented and monitored by state bodies. Every health care facility should follow guidelines regarding transportation, treatment, and disposal of biomedical waste mentioned in Rules 7 and 8 of the Biomedical waste management rule, 2016. Annual reports should be made and submitted to the prescribed authority by every occupier according to Rule 13(1) of the Biomedical waste management rule, 2016. Awareness of the management of bio-medical waste should be added to the curriculum of medical schools. Government should make familiar people and medical staff aware of the harmful effect of bio-medical waste. Compulsory medical workshops should be done in hospitals and other health care facilities. All health care facilities shall introduce a waste management system, and recycling and reusing of waste shall be done. Hospitals shall avoid mixing bio-medical waste with common municipal garbage. Proper segregation of waste shall be done in hospitals, and all the transportation of waste guidelines shall be followed. Regular collection of waste from health care institutions should be ensured. Government should review the implementation of rules ones in a year. It is essential to properly dispose of waste without leaving it for future generations to suffer.
Conditions of Biomedical waste management are deplorable in India. The importance of the management of bio-medical waste needs emphasis and special attention. Proper implementation of biomedical waste management rules is the need of the hour, and training of sanitary staff should be done. There is a need for evolving policies and protocols for health care institutions. The government should make a special dedicated committee to understand the challenges of reducing biomedical waste. An annual report related to biomedical waste should be made to compare the growth. Biomedical waste should be classified according to its sources, types, and level of infection. Segregation of bio-medical waste is crucial in reducing waste and proper disposal. It is essential to realize the need for proper bio-medical waste management to protect the environment and public health.
[i]The Basel Convention was negotiated under the auspices of the United Nations Environment Programme in the late 1980s. It was adopted in 1989 and entered into force in 1992, <http://archive.basel.int/convention/bc_glance.pdf>
[ii]INDIAN CONSTITUTION. Art. 253
[iii]Section 8- No person shall handle or cause to be handled any hazardous substance except by such procedure and after complying with such safeguards as may be prescribed.
[iv]INDIAN CONSTITUTION. Art. 21
[v]1991 AIR 420, 1991 SCR (1) 5.