India turns down Apple's request to sell refurbished iPhones in the country

The sale of pre-owned iPhones would be in violation of Hazardous Wastes Rules, according to the government.
Written by V L Srinivasan, Contributor

In a setback to the efforts of Apple Inc, the Indian Ministry of Environment and Forests has decided not to allow the US smartphone maker to market its refurbished iPhones and iPads on the grounds that it would be in violation of the Hazardous Waste Rules 2008.

The Technical Review Committee (TRC) in the ministry has reportedly turned down an application filed by Apple in December pointing out that it would add to the mounting e-waste in the country. "The Central Pollution Control Board has estimated that as much as 800,000 MTs of e-waste was generated in 2005," Indian Minister for Environment and Forests Prakash Javadekar informed the country's law makers 10 days ago.

In a statement in Parliament made in early March, Indian Minister for Communication and Information Technology Ravi Shankar Prasad confirmed Apple's request to sell pre-owned iPhones imported from China in the country but said that the government has not taken any decision so far.

The development is a sort of embarrassment to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who, during one of his visits to the US, personally invited Apple's CEO Tim Cook to set up a manufacturing facility in India. The latter agreed to the request.

According to a report in an English daily Indian Express, the US firm tried in vain on an earlier occasion to seek permission to import 1 lakh used iPhones and 2.5 lakh iPads to explore the "refurbished electrical and electronic equipment" market, but the requested was turned down by Environment Ministry's TRC on July 2 last year on the grounds that it would add to India's e-waste.

Quoting TRC sources, the report further said: "Refurbished electrical and electronic equipment had shorter functional life and became obsolete quicker, thereby amplifying the country's e-waste burden. At best, it reasoned, imports that were of less than three year vintage with at least five years of residual life could be allowed."

However, Apple has claimed in its application that its CPO iPhones were not "standard refurbished mobile phones" as they are made by its original equipment manufacturers and follow the same manufacturing and quality assurance processes as for new devices, the report added.

They were not second-hand phones as they went through the same standards of quality and testing as new ones; carried the same one year warranty; and bore a new serial number and IMEI number. Claiming that it maintained high standards of e-waste management and recycling, Apple said that by allowing CPOs -- which were as durable as new iPhones -- India could replace the low-end mobiles, including smartphones, and prevent e-waste generation and landfills.

Apple's keenness to make inroads into the Indian market is understandable, as while the Chinese market reached saturation, the sale of smartphones in India was close to 100 million in 2015. While the sale of iPhones in the first quarter in China fell by 11 percent, the same increased in India by 56 percent.

However, the Indian government's decision is unlikely to impact Apple's plans to set up a technology development centre at a cost of $25 million in Hyderabad in the coming months.

"Since the centre will not be engaged in manufacturing iPhones, there should not be any change in the company's plans," an official with knowledge of the matter told ZDNet.

Apple's representatives are waiting for the Indian government's clearance to start work on the project, which is expected to cover an area of 250,000 square feet in the real estate firm Tishman Speyer's WaveRock facility located amidst the IT corridor in Hyderabad. Apple is planning to develop maps and make them available in its iPhones and Mac systems in the proposed centre.

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