At the 700-year-old ancient Hanuman Temple at Connaught Place last week, 39-year-old Ajey Pandey, a devotee who has been attending prayers there almost every Tuesday for 15 years, was stumped to find the prasad wrapped in leaves instead of the customary plastic bags.
“I do not remember when was the last time I saw prasad wrapped in leaves here,” said Pandey. “When I asked for the usual plastic bag, they simply said it was banned.”
In an old city of ever-changing traditions, the forgotten tradition of wrapping prasad in leaf or paper is being revived at one of Delhi’s biggest spiritual landmarks —where millions converge on Tuesdays — though officially the temple said it had never abandoned use of leaves.
Nearly a month after plastic bags were banned in Delhi, its citizens and institutions —slowly and perhaps grudgingly — are trying to find alternatives as authorities threaten violators with five years in jail or a fine of Rs 1 lakh for violators.
“We will not let Delhi suffer the same fate as Mumbai. That’s why the ban,” said J.K. Dadoo, Delhi’s environment secretary, referring to the floods that ravaged Mumbai in 2006, after which authorities found that plastic bags clogging drains and sewers were a major cause. “Our drains will not be choked and our cattle will not continue to die eating plastic bags.”
It’s a sentiment that is gaining ground among individuals, stores and neighbourhoods.
In the south Delhi suburbs of Sarita Vihar and Malviya Nagar, housewives are stitching bags made of used clothes, sourced from fellow residents, and are distributing them at the area’s shops for free. Their target is not consumers but retailers. “They (retailers) are the source of all the plastic bags in the system,” said Rachna Mathur of a women's group in the area. “We also ask tailors and export houses to donate their extra cloth.”
Their counterparts in Malviya Nagar, distribute homemade cloth bags to malls in Saket, Vasant Kunj and South Extension, where all kinds of plastic bags have been banned. “We plan to recycle paper and make low cost tough bags,” said Madhuri Bansal of the local women’s group.
It’s going to be a long, hard battle. Large retailers, where Delhi gets a big share of its plastic bags from, are unhappy. At the Big Bazaar chain store, officials have experimented with alternatives —from paper bags to jute bags — but nothing succeeds like plastic bags, said Rajan Malhotra, head of Big Bazaar.
“Nothing has the load-carrying strength of plastics,” he said. “But we are trying out all sorts of stuff now.” Perhaps the most significant sign of change is in the small shops. A smattering of vegetable vendors and kirana shops have signs urging customers to bring their own bags.
Has the plastic bag finally overstayed its welcome in Delhi? Maybe.
But Indian cities are replete with instances of plastic bans that never worked: Delhi is determined to make it work.