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How not to ban plastic carry bags!

Dr Nitin Pandey


Roughly 6 years ago, Dehra Dun district administration banned plastic carry bags up to 20 microns in thickness with as much fanfare as it has now banned 40 micron plastic carry bags. We are now about a month in the 40 micron ban and yet one still finds 20 micron carry bags being used everywhere. Inspite of repeated assurances by the Plastic wholesalers association, the Doon traders association that even 40 microns carry bags will not be used, one still finds such assurances being more broken rather than followed.

The 40 micron plastic carry bag ban is all set to go the way 20 micron ban went, into the dustbin. Why? Is there a better way of implementing the ban?

Expecting the present generation, across all socio economic strata, to give up using plastic carry bags, out of love for environment, is a bit unrealistic. Intensive environmental education and sensitization, continued over a decade, can at best, stop the demand for such carry bags, in the school going generation, but unfortunately EV Studies in schools have been discontinued last year. The new generation is getting used to the convenience of plastic carry bags so their use is unlikely to wane down significantly any time in foreseeable future. Plastic carry bags must be seen as a social evil and like dowry, untouchability and other social evils, and must be ruthlessly banned. The latest excuse given by Doon Traders Association that “traders are simply exhausting their earlier stock” exposes their real intent; the “previous stock” will simply never finish.
But is the administration is serious about implementing a plastic carry bag ban? The Chief Secretary of Uttarakhand Government issues a GO banning 40 microns and below plastic carry bags but does not take any follow up steps to assess its implementation. For ten days, the District Administration in Doon bans plastic carry bags below 40 microns only, leaving the traders free to use 40 micron carry bags and then wakes up to the 40 micron ban, giving traders an excuse of having stocked up 40 micron bags on the advice of the district administration. After the initial week when 20 teams of Municipal staff raided shops and fined traders using the 20 micron bags, the enthusiasm has died down and now one finds only the City Magistrate making an occasional raid. The ban has obviously fallen flat. Why?

Firstly, there is an absolute lack of political will. The trade of plastic carry bags is a lucrative one and big wigs of both major political parties are supposed to be involved in it. There has to be sufficient political will to prod the district administration to take effective measures. Everyone knows where the plastic carry bags come from, how they are distributed in the city, yet no action is taken. One wonders why! Carry bags come into Doon as parcels in trains, the railway officials have no interest in knowing that plastic carry bags are banned, so they take no action. Carry bags come into Doon in trucks, the Sales Tax Officials at the borders, also have no interest and let the carry bags through. If the State Administration was serious about the ban, can these obvious loop holes not be plugged? Why not stop these bags at the borders of Uttarakhand itself? Leaving the burden of implementing the ban in the entire district on the shoulders of one man, the City Magistrate, is the best way of ensuring it is never implemented. Why should the police look the other way when anyone is using the carry bags or selling them? Are they not supposed to ensure implementation of the law? Why are the various Panchayats looking the other way? Why is the State Pollution Control board silent?

Even if an ‘unfortunate’ trader is caught with these plastic carry bags, all he is required to do is to pay a fine of Rs 1000/-. The high improbability of same person being caught twice and the token amount of fine, fails to deter even the person who is caught to desist from using the carry bags again, leave alone deterring others from using it. No questions are asked as to where he got the bags in the first place and so no efforts are made to track and punish the supplier of these bags. Wholesalers caught with 20 micron bags are let off after a fine. Why not ask them from where they got it and plug the source? Why not ask whom they have been selling these bags to and penalize those who bought it from the wholesaler, too? Are we trying to fool ourselves into believing that simply by issuing a random 1000 Rs fine, we can eliminate the use of plastic carry bags? Why not get to the root of the entire nexus which brings and distributes these bags; why not catch the big fish instead of simply going after small end-users?

Also, one wonders why is the police hesitant to involve itself in efforts to control the plastic menace in spite of the instructions of the Chief Secretary. Leaving it solely to the City Magistrate is a recipe for failure. Why can’t policemen on duty seize plastic carry bags from shops, from people carrying them on streets and issue spot fines? True it will increase the burden on the police force, but given the sheer magnitude of the problem and the ubiquitous presence of policemen in our society, their role in implementing a plastic ban is critical.

What is also inexplicable is the reluctance of the administration in involving civil society in the drive against plastic carry bags. Why not encourage the public to report shop keepers using plastic carry bags by calling up a well-publicized telephone number? Why not involve NGOs in the drive against plastic carry bags, empowering them to seize and fine violators? Giving NGOs a small percentage of the fine so realized will ensure a high “capture” rate.

Therefore, to summarize, the way in which the administration has being going about banning the plastic carry bag, is a text book example of how NOT to ban plastic carry bags. Lot more needs to be done, if one is serious about the issue. And finally, to all the learned readers who would be nodding their heads reading this article in unbridled anger at the government , do you carry your own bag while shopping?

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Your answer was just what I nedeed. It's made my day!