WHILE SPEAKING recently at a World Environment Day function, the Chief Minister announced that the government was ‘mulling’ a legislation to ban polythene bags. The announcement must have been greeted by those who are concerned about the City’s fast-deteriorating environment. Unfortunately for them, however, the ‘mulling’ in question has gone on for far too long, with no concrete action in sight.
The Chief Minister seemed anxious about the health of the stray cattle. What, however, should have worried him more was the toxic, hazardous and non-biodegradable character of the polythene bags which have now become an environmental nightmare.
There should be little reason for hesitation in taking ‘affirmative action’ in this matter of vital importance. That tons of freely-in-use plastic bags blown around in the breeze, litter the roadsides, clog the drains, kill our garbage-eating cattle and will survive in the land-fills till eternity cannot be disputed.
Bhopal had a kind of head-start with the BHEL somewhat effectively banning these bags in areas under its control. The opportunity of extending the ban to cover the entire town was somehow lost. Since the local administration was disinterested BHEL also, apparently, lost steam enabling the bags to make a re-appearance.
Last year’s disaster in Mumbai prompted the Maharashtra government to ban manufacture, sale and use of all plastic bags. To what extent the government has been successful in eliminating them remains to be seen. Goa government has also recently moved into the matter banning the stuff in the state. Elsewhere, like in Ooty, Haridwar and Badrinath, such bans have only met with mixed success.
Enforcement of laws, unfortunately, is not the forte of our governments. As a hack said, plastic generally is “driven out of sight but never out of the system”.
A government that has proposed to the Prime Minister to convert Bhopal into a “Global Environment City” (whatever that means) at a reported cost of Rs 3000 crore should have by now taken initiative to tackle the problem of the City’s deteriorating environment.
While cleaning-up the Union Carbide Factory site and providing un-contaminated drinking water to those residing near-by will take a great deal of money, time and effort, checking the exploding plastic menace or, for that matter, air and water pollution surely wouldn’t need that much.
Well within the government’s capacity, some stiff measures will only manifest its political will and resolve to make Bhopal an environmentally better city. The vested interests – the manufacturers of plastic bags and their employees – will certainly cry out, but what is at stake is our own future and that of our progeny. Viewed in this context, the course of action simply suggests itself.
Whether it is in the US or Europe governments and civic bodies are wrestling with the question of discouraging the use of plastic bags. European grocery stores have priced their bags, drastically reducing their consumption. We saw during our last trip to Europe, people carrying to the groceries plastic bags bought earlier, which, obviously, they had not thrown away.
With a huge organisation like EPCO at the back of it to work out the modalities, the government should quickly move in to combat this burgeoning menace. Perhaps, the best course of action would be to emulate Maharashtra with a little modification.
While Maharashtra has banned (impractically?) all plastic bags of less than 100 microns (twice the thickness of milk pouches) we could start with banning bags below 50 microns, the ones which do the most damage, being lighter and not quite amenable to worthwhile recycling. Simultaneously, a campaign needs to be launched to educate the traders and the lay public about the need to avoid their use.
Legislation alone will not help. Only its strict enforcement will keep these infernal things “out of the system”.