Plastic out, bottles from home back as Parliament goes green
After three unsuccessful attempts, Parliament has finally stopped the use of packaged drinking water bottles and other disposable plastic items on its premises. Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla’s action against single-use plastic has earned praise from a large number of MPs, but sceptics still wonder how sustainable the ban will prove to be.
According to two senior officials involved in the purchase of water bottles that were widely used in the Parliament complex, an average of 2,000 bottles of Rail Neer, a product of Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation, were bought daily.
The annual supply of more than 600,000 bottles suddenly came to a halt following a circular issued on August 19 on “total prohibition of use of plastic bottles and other plastic items within Parliament House complex”. Glasses of water have replaced bottles in all meetings and more officials have started bringing water bottles from home.
“The security officers are checking if people are bringing plastic wraps or single-use plastic bags. They are reminded of the order and requested not to bring any such item in future,” a senior officer involved in Parliament’s security said on condition of anonymity.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been at the vanguard of a campaign against single-use plastic, using his Independence Day speech from the ramparts of the Red Fort to eliminate the use of these polluting items by 2022. Disposable plastics are the least biodegradable and with the lowest possibility of being reconverted.
The Lok Sabha Speaker’s office told HT that big water dispensers will be installed in large numbers across the Parliament building, library and the annexe to make it easier for people to get drinking water. “Thousands of paper cups will also be made available every day along with the dispensers,” said a close aide to Birla. The Lok Sabha Speaker is deemed as the custodian of Parliament premises.
This is not the first attempt to get rid of single-use plastic in Parliament. In June 2015, the Lok Sabha secretariat issued the first order to prohibit use of plastics in the complex. The next order came on May 2017, followed by another appeal in April 2018. “But none of the previous orders were as effective as the recent one, as there was laxity in enforcement of the order. People took it lightly and plastic bottles continued to come to Parliament complex,” said a joint-secretary level official.
This time, the picture looks different. Last week, a number of Parliamentary committees met for the first time following their reconstitution in the new Lok Sabha and in no meeting were plastic water bottles served. Thirsty MPs had to drink RO water in glasses.
Chairman of the standing committee on labour and consecutive six-term MP Bhartruhari Mahtab welcomed the anti-plastic campaign. “Till 15 years ago, there were no facility for water or snacks for MPs in the Parliament annexe, where most of the committee meetings take place. No water or food was even allowed in committee meetings. Earlier in central hall, water was served in glasses. Between 2004 and 2005, after some MPs raised the issue, the secretariat started serving water in plastic bottles. And over the years, it almost became a norm as it was very convenient to handle and distribute,” said Mahtab.
Officials also point out that in the floor of the House, no water bottles are allowed. “Even when Prime Minister of India or any other MP feels thirsty, the orderly brings him or her a glass of water. There have been several instances when the PM or the finance minister drinks water during a long speech. If the PM can drink water processed through the RO plant in Parliament, why can’t it be followed by others.” said a senior official.
Mahtab added that there was a water dispenser in the lobby of the Lok Sabha for MPs. “We can get warm, normal or cold water from it.”
Not everybody is convinced about the purity of drinking water they have access to in the Parliament complex. An officer who sits on the ground floor said he brings his water from home. Another said that when foreign delegates come to Parliament, it may be difficult to convince them to drink the water supplied by the New Delhi Municipal Council.
An officer recalled that during the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) era, an animal fell into the water tank and died. “As a result, some MPs fell sick after drinking that water,” he said.
Another senior official brushed aside such possibilities and pointed out that the large water tank installed on the third floor of Parliament House has been encaged to stop animals, particularly monkeys, from reaching it. “Moreover, the NDMC checks the quality of the water almost on a daily basis. There is absolutely no possibility that the drinking water is unfit for use,” said the official.
Some remain sceptical about how long the ban will last. An official in the Lok Sabha secretary general’s office, however, recalled, “After a study revealed that cold drinks in India contains high levels of pesticides, Parliament of India banned the entry of cold drinks in 2004. Till date, no Pepsi or Coke is allowed in Parliament.”
Former parliamentary affairs secretary Afzal Amanullah welcomed the move. “Plastic is creating havoc in the entire world. Parliament of India has done the right thing and took the lead by setting an example. All government offices should also ban plastics now,” Amanullah said.