Ahmedabad: The Directorate General of Foreign Trade (DGFT) has called a meeting on Thursday to discuss removing multifunctional print and copying machines, or MFDs, from the restricted list of imports, soon after the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) conducted raids in Kochi and Kolkata in connection with a probe into the illegal import of such equipment that falls under the category of electronic waste, or e-waste.

A memorandum from the DGFT, dated 5 January, said it had received representations from importers of MFDs for their removal from the restricted list. In line with the view of the department of industrial policy and promotion, which falls under the commerce ministry, that such items will not help the domestic industry grow and such second-hand equipment becomes obsolete very fast and disposal becomes an issue, the DGFT had not been granting permission for their import for the past three years. “However, on receipt of various representations it has indicated that since these items are covered under Electronics and IT Goods Order 2012, matter may be taken up with MeitY (ministry of electronics and information technology,” the DGFT stated.

The memorandum was signed by S.K. Mohapatra, the deputy director general of foreign trade. Attempts to speak with Mohapatra on the phone were unsuccessful. 

The meeting comes less than three years after the Union ministry of environment, forests and climate change denied permission to multinational firms such Apple Inc., International Business Machines Corp. (IBM), Honeywell International Inc., Nokia Oyj and Hewlett-Packard Co., among others, to import used equipment and parts into the country.

The environment ministry in July 2015 had taken a firm stand against e-waste generation, saying that the residual life of refurbished electronic and electrical equipment would later add to the country’s burden. “The items proposed to be imported are known to have short functional life and are prone to become obsolete in a short period of time. Therefore, generation of e-waste would become quicker in the country,” the ministry had said in a note.

CBI crackdown

The CBI in August launched an investigation into the seizure of around 8,000 MFDs by the customs department in Kochi, of which 3,100 were found to be e-waste, The New Indian Express reported, and the department and the state pollution control board had ordered the export of these machines, which allegedly contained hazardous elements such as cadmium, selenium and iridium.

“We have not registered any case in this regard. Only a preliminary inquiry has been launched.  We have received some details about the agencies which imported the machines. We are checking the number of consignments imported earlier and whether any customs officers facilitated the import. We are also checking whether the state and Central Pollution Control Board had information about the imports of the photocopiers. If we get concrete evidence, we will register a case and conduct a detailed probe,” The New Indian Express quoted a CBI officer as saying.

The CBI filed a first-information report (FIR) on 30 November against Ketan Kamdar, the owner of Atul Automation (Pvt.) Ltd registered in Kolkata, along with three customs officers and a customs house broker, among others, for violating rules pertaining to hazardous waste, e-waste and India’s foreign trade policy and preparing a false valuation report in connivance with public servants for the purpose of releasing the consignment for sale in the open market. The FIR said Atul Automation had imported 16,000 MFDs that are restricted under India’s foreign trade policy, with 126 bill entries made without the DGFT’s authorization.

On 3 January, the investigating agency raided multiple locations in Kochi and Kolkata as part of its probe. Searches were also carried out at the office of shipping agency at Thoppumpady in Kochi, The Hindu reported.

MeraNews has a copy of the FIR filed by the CBI as well as the DGFT memorandum.

Funding their clearance?

An importer familiar with the matter, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Kamdar had been collecting money from other importers to find a solution for their consignments held up at Kochi port, with the target being Rs20 crore to be paid to the Union minister of state for electronics and information technology, Alphons Kannanthanam. A large amount of MFDs, which include printers, scanners and photocopiers, has been accumulated at the port as the customs office has not cleared their import.

When contacted by a MeraNews representative, Kannanthanam said he was not aware of any such raids or the money collected by the importer, and directed further inquiries to the Union minister for electronics and information technology, Ravi Shankar Prasad. 

A photograph was shared on social media of a meeting between Kannanthanam and Kamdar, who has been named by the CBI in the FIR, and importers Ankkit Khetterpal and Sitaram Jhunjhunwala, while a text message shared by the unnamed importer quoted above indicated that the importers had met the joint secretary and the additional secretary in the ministry for electronics and information technology as well as Kannanthanam in November and December, and it was decided to grant a one-time exemption for the release of the containers at Kochi.

“The minister is very open. Anyone can come and meet (him). That doesn’t mean that he gets influenced,” Prashanth Nair, Kannanthanam’s private secretary, said by phone.

Attempts to contact Kamdar by phone were unsuccessful.