THE Corporation of the City of Panaji has decided to ban use of plastics entirely in the city from October 2. Even plastic bags above 50 microns would not be allowed. One of the main reasons for enforcing the ban, they say, is choking of gutters and drains during monsoon, causing waterlogging. Already a CCP ban on plastic bags below 50 microns is in force. The ban on plastic bags below 50 microns was announced by Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar during last year’s Liberation Day celebrations and the traders were given time to switch over to other modes for dispensation of goods so as to make the plastic ban effective. The ban finally came into effect on May 30 this year in Panaji and Margao and elsewhere thereafter.
The CCP has been announcing ban on use of plastic at regular intervals since 2000 but failed to enforce it. To make the last ban effective, they issued notices to shopkeepers and street vendors to comply with the Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016 and register with the corporation by March 31 for selling goods in plastic bags. The traders were directed to pay a monthly fee of Rs 4,000 or annual fee of Rs 48,000 and many complied. With the new ban proposed from October 2, it remains to be seen how the CCP will deal with the situation as it has accepted money in advance to allow the shopkeepers to sell their goods in plastic bags. The CCP will have to refund the collected amounts in case it goes ahead with the latest ban. It also risks litigation from aggrieved traders who might have bought huge quantities of plastic bags to meet their requirement of sales. Though the last ban has been in force over three months, shopkeepers continue to dispense goods in plastic bags which suggested that the last ban was ineffective, as were the previous ones.
The state government has been blowing hot and cold on banning plastic for a long time, never really finding a practicable alternative to plastic bags. There is no evidence of alternatives available in plenty for traders, vendors and customers to buy and use. The government has for years focused on removal of plastics by rules and orders, but has not worked methodically and sincerely on what can replace them. It is for lack of alternatives that both traders and customers resort to violations, making the ban on plastics ineffective. The government and civic officials entrusted with enforcement of the ban have not succeeded in deterring anyone from using plastics. That the implementation of ban on plastic bags has been ineffective can be gauged from the fact only 30 persons have been fined from the time the last ban came into effect in Panaji. The use of banned plastic bags in the city market and elsewhere continues unrestrained. The shopkeepers were warned that if they were found selling goods in plastic bags without getting registered they would attract penalty under Section 45 of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1996 which includes imprisonment for five years with fine extending upto Rs 1 lakh or both. As no trader in the city has been penalised for contravention of the law it appears all of them have registered with the CCP.
There is no disputing that plastics are a grave threat to human and animal life and environment. Since the last ban came into effect, some traders have switched to biodegradable bags and use of cloth bags is picking up. However, the change cannot be brought about overnight just by imposing a ban. It is beyond the capability of the CCP alone to stop use of plastic bags. Nothing is clear on how the ban on use of plastic bags in all forms would be implemented in Panaji. Such a ban cannot be implemented by any civic body or panchayat on its own. It is beyond the means of individual organizations. The ban can only be effectively implemented by the state government. And the state government can implement it effectively only by providing the shopkeepers and customers cheaper, easily available and cleaner alternatives. The government cannot expect customers to carry fish in paper bags! Nor should they expect them to carry it in a cloth bag – for how many times the lady of the house is going to wash the bag? Supposing the man has to by fish, vegetables and small amounts of grocery wrapped in pieces of old newspaper in the morning: can he carry them all in one cloth bag, without the vegetables smelling of fish and the fish smelling of spices?