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Gaurav Bisht, Hindustan Times
Shimla, August 28, 2013
Just a week before the ban on plastic packaging material, junk food has started running out of stock in Himachal Pradesh.
In a first-of-its-kind order in the country, the state high court on January 10 directed the state government to ban sale of junk food  packed in non-biodegradable packs, but had exempted essential items such as edible oil and milk from the ban.

Owing to the court’s order, the HP government had issued notification to ban the food items packaged in plastic items from  April 1. The state had sought three months’ time from the court to implement the orders. On July 2, the court extended the banning period till September 3.

Now, with just a week left, towns across the state have begun to run short of junk food packed in non-biodegradable plastic. Not only citizens, but children in particular are feeling the pinch of shortage of junk food.

Fearing ban, retailers have stopped lifting packed foods items from wholesalers, which has led to scarcity in the market.

“There was no clarity in decision of the government for banning plastic-packed material. Due to that small retailers were keeping low stock with them in the shops,” says Ram Prasad, a retailer in Sanjauli Bazar.

“Shortage in the stock is due to non-clarity of the government’s stand over banning plastic packing material,” said Prasad.

The sale of junk food has dropped at least from 30% to 40 % in the capital town alone.

Wholesale merchant Rattan Agrawal said, “This decision of the government has created confusion among traders. In the market, there was shortage of material. Retailers have decreased their daily orders. There is 30% decrease in the demand of retailers due to unclear policy of the government,” he said.

Many shopkeepers observe that even the state government ban on tobacco products have failed to make a desired impact.

“We can demand more stock, but what if ban starts from tomorrow,” said Sunder Gupta, a retailer in Lower Bazaar.

Before banning, the high court in 2010 had constituted a committee to identify food items that are sold in non-biodegradable packets.

The then additional chief secretary, Sarojini Ganju Thakur, headed the committee, but the report was not convincing.

Subsequently, the court constituted another committee asking it to draw a list of junk foods packed in non-biodegradable packs and submit its report on November 30, 2012. This committee too did not submit its report on time.

The committee identified chips, wafers, biscuits, namkeen, candy, chewing gum, ice-cream, chocolates, noodles, sugary cereals, cornflakes, pizzas, burgers, patties and French fries.

The court had maintained  that sale of such food stuff in biodegradable packing might slightly raise prices of these items,  but in case the consumption of these items was reduced (owing to price rise), paying extra money would be worth to protect the environment and children health.