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Why Plastic-Free Goa Remains A Pipe Dream

Goa’s dream of becoming a plastic-free state would remain a pipe dream as the government is not making any efforts to make environment-friendly and convenient alternatives to plastic bags easily available. The City Corporation of Panaji has banned plastics without telling people what bags to use to carry fish, meat and chicken. The CCP is busy enforcing the ban, without making life easier for vendors and customers. No wonder, fish wonders chased away a CCP-approved trader selling an unwieldy thick basket as an alternative. A large chicken chain is using plastic bags claiming they are above 50 macrons and safe! Nobody in the CCP or the government knows where the company which is supplying the chicken chain the bags stamping them as ‘bio-degradable’ is accessing them from. The company refuses to allow media to visit where it is producing ‘bio-degradable’ bags. Goa can never be plastic-free with such unwise and one-eyed ban which favours some big chains and does not penalize establishments claiming to be producing ‘bio-degradable’ bags.

If anything, the civic body initiatives in Panaji and Margao should wake up the government to see that only a well-coordinated campaign by the state government can help establish a common regime for plastic ban and alternatives. It is hazardous leaving it to the local self-governing bodies which are short on vision, manpower, money and logistics. Local self-governing bodies have come up periodically with the ban and allow it to peter out after some time. On the Liberation Day last year Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar had promised to make Goa plastic-free. Though a full year has passed Goa’s slavery to plastic continues with no sight of freedom. Blinkered, haphazard, uncoordinated enforcement of ban by local self-governing bodies will lead us nowhere near the target. These bodies are not equipped for the mission.

All efforts to make Goa plastic-free are bound to fail without a coordinated approach. The government must make a department nodal for making Goa plastic-free. Additional, dedicated manpower and funds should be placed at the disposal of the local bodies that would be accountable to a state-level committee responsible for implementation of the plastic ban. The drive against plastic will never succeed unless people are provided with alternatives. Goa has been struggling to free itself from plastic since 2000 because the fight has been with verbal weapons. In almost two decades of its fight against plastic the state government has never thought of flooding the market with alternatives. The environment wing of the state government has been left just to create awareness among people of the hazards of plastic. It has done it for far too long without any result. It should take direct charge of the campaign. The government could do well by appointing civilians as sentinels on the line of traffic sentinels and give rewards to those who help in identifying those selling and using plastic bags – even those that claim to be manufacturing/supplying ‘bio-degradable’ bags. They should be severely penalized.

The state government has to push the self-governing bodies too. The ban on plastic is limited to bigger civic bodies, especially the Corporation of the City of Panaji and Margao and Mapusa municipalities. None of the 190 village panchayats have come out with any concrete proposal to ban use of plastic in their areas. For lack of enforcement traders are using plastic bags claiming them to be ‘bio-degradable’ in Panaji, Margao and Mapusa. There is no agency to make a check whether they are really ‘bio-degradable’ and take penal action against the suppliers. The violations are largely owing to the fact that certain items like fish and meat need proper insulation and cannot be carried in cloth bags, because they need to be washed every day, which means additional labour for the women of the house and additional costs. Besides, blood from the bags might be dripping along the way the customer passes with the bag.

The government and the local bodies may set a deadline for freedom from plastic, but it will not happen as long as the measures lack a vision. The government must make the ban total across the state, so that it is strictly enforced uniformly. Today, the civic body of Panaji, Margao or Mapusa has no control over anyone from other parts of the state visiting the state with plastic bags. Nor can tourists coming from other states be fined for using plastic bags. That is why the state government has to take over the campaign to make Goa plastic-free. But before enforcing the ban strictly the government must give the people easy-to-handle and easy-to-get alternative bags. One of the alternatives could be liquid wood which looks and feels like plastic but unlike petroleum-based plastic is biodegradable and suitable for packaging.

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