UN environment body to train customs officials

January 29th, 2009 - 3:54 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Jan 29 (IANS) A few months after the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) reported that chemicals that created holes in the ozone layer atop Earth were being smuggled out of India, the government Thursday decided to sign an agreement with UNEP, under which it will train customs officials on various environment protection laws.In a meeting chaired by Minister for External Affairs Pranab Mukherjee in the absence of the recuperating prime minister, the cabinet approved a proposal for the National Academy of Customs, Excise and Narcotics (NACEN) to sign an agreement with UNEP. NACEN is under the Department of Revenue in the finance ministry.

A government spokesman told journalists after the cabinet meeting: “UNEP will provide funding for various projects to be implemented through a centre to be set up under NACEN. This would be the first such collaborating centre for UNEP in a developing country.”

The agreement comes after a report from the Bangkok office of the UNEP early last year, which said India had become the world’s main source for illicit CFCs and HCFCs - chemicals that have created holes in the ozone layer on the top of the Earth’s atmosphere.

Under the Montreal Protocol that India has signed, manufacture of zone-depleting chemicals has already been phased out in industrialised countries, while developing countries have to phase it out by 2015.

Till then, there is a strict quota on how much of these chemicals - used mostly as refrigerants and in aerosol cans - can be manufactured in a country. The UNEP report had alleged that Indian manufacturers more than they were allowed to, and the extra chemicals had been smuggled out of the country, mainly to other Asian countries.

The report had mentioned that customs official in India appeared unaware that the consignments were illegal.

The agreement between NACEN and UNEP will also come in the backdrop of continuing fears expressed by wildlife conservationists that tiger and rhinoceros parts continue to be smuggled out of India and that these highly endangered animals are being poached mainly to cater to the international underground market.

The government spokesman said: “The signing of this agreement will significantly help the officers of Indian revenue as well as other government officials in capacity building in the field of protection and conservation of environment.”

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