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Plastic ban: Smart agents vs weak govt

Behind the latest Cabinet decision to shut down factories of plastic bags lies the Delhi government's long record of failure in enforcing the ban on use and sale of plastic bags.

delhi Updated: Apr 05, 2011 23:54 IST
Avishek G Dastidar

Behind the latest Cabinet decision to shut down factories of plastic bags lies the Delhi government's long record of failure in enforcing the ban on use and sale of plastic bags.

After the initial enforcement drives and campaigns in 2009, the ban petered out quietly and plastic bags once again became ubiquitous in Delhi stores.

Sample this: in over 24 months following the ban, the Delhi government and the civic agencies combined could collect only 260 samples of plastic bags in use. Of that, they could only 130 were real "violations". And of that, only around 40 attracted penalty. A few of them were as much Rs 1 lakh - the maximum the fine can go.

That means the government enforcers could not find more people using, storing or selling plastic bags.

"The civic agencies never took the enforcement drives seriously. They are the ones with the manpower and the network spread across the city for effective policing. The government's departments do not have such resources," said a senior government official on condition of anonymity.

In the meantime, the plastic manufacturers got smarter, with field agents and distributors offering longer credit periods and lower prices to shopkeepers - making the deals sweeter than ever.

"Hundreds of field agents fan out to every market, however small, in every little corner of Delhi carrying supplies on cycles and motorcycles. The government could never match them in reach and influence over traders," said Vinod Jain, petitioner of the public interest litigation that resulted in the ban two years ago. Such widespread was the use that it never looked like a ban on the bags was in place.

"What ban? Every shop gives out plastic bags. Even big retail stores and malls. Such glaring violations went unnoticed," said Pankaj Aggarwal, secretary general of RWAs Joint Front.

One of the excuses shopkeepers use for keeping the bags is that buyers tend to avoid shops that do not give them carry bags.

"Shopkeepers and traders have always been getting feedback from their customers that without carry bags, it was inconvenient to shop," said Praveen Khandelwal, head of Confederation of All India Traders.

Realizing that the machinery feeding sale and use of the bags was too strong to be curbed, the government decided to cut the source once and for all.

Will this finally eradicate the bag? "Plastic bags brought in from other states will be too costly for shopkeepers to be given out just like that. And in any case they plan to increase enforcement," said Jain.