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Lack of clarity, political bickering, pressure from manufacturers: How yet another attempt by the govt to ban plastic could come to naught

There’s confusion among the public regarding the plastic ban and the govt’s indecisiveness is not helping.

Less than two weeks after the state government issued a notification banning various single-use plastic items, questions are being raised about the ban’s implementation. The first rollback has already been announced, with the government declaring on Tuesday that the ban on plastic bottles with a capacity lower than 0.5 litres will be reversed. Several others, such as papad manufacturers, cloth merchants, imitation jewellery dealers, and grain merchants are in the queue pleading for similar exemption.

Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has asked the environment minister, Ramdas Kadam, to extend by another two months the one-month window to implement the ban. Kadam, whose party Shiv Sena doesn’t agree with most things said and done by the BJP these days, said the Sena was not in favour of such extension. “We’ll oppose the extension when the matter is discussed at the Cabinet level. But the final decision will be the chief minister’s,” he said.

Once bitten, twice shy

Maharashtra’s previous attempt at banning plastic — after the 2005 deluge in Mumbai — was a waste of scores of environment experts’ time and state’s resources. These experts were roped in, they presented a plan, and it was never implemented.

Former BMC chief V Ranganathan, who supervised a committee formed in 2006 to implement the plastic ban, said a complete ban was not possible then, and it’s not possible now. “Our committee had suggested the ban be implemented in a phased manner. We still don’t have alternatives to plastic in place. The 2006 ban was not successful because of poor enforcement and implementation. I’m afraid the same will happen this time around,” Ranganathan said.

Indeed, the Fadnavis government has formed three panels to look into the various aspects of the ban. One committee, consisting of 10 members, will look into various manufacturing and trading associations’ arguments against the ban, another threemember Cabinet sub-committee will hold talks with the various stakeholders over the next three months, while the Environment Department has formed its own expert committee to review the items that will be banned. This committee will advise the government on adding or exempting items from the ban (see graphic below).

The confusion

While the state government has reversed the ban on plastic bottles with a capacity lower than 0.5 litres, the Environment Department maintains that there is a complete ban on purchase, sale, distribution and storage of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and polyethylene terephthalate esters (PETE) bottles with a capacity lower than 0.5 litres. Also, the depository scheme of Re 1 for a one-litre bottle and Rs 2 for 0.5-litre bottle is applicable to all beverages, and not just water bottles.

Environmental activist Rishi Aggarwal stated the obvious when he said talking about ideas and implementing them were two very different things. “Politicians come up with theories and ideas but these are often caught up in a political crossfire. How many ideas are actually implemented? Maharashtra banned bags below 50 microns after the 2005 Mumbai floods, but nothing actually happened,” he said.

Environmentalist D Stalin from the NGO Vanashakti said the state’s latest effort to eliminate plastic will work if the guidelines are not diluted. “All these years, plastic bans across India haven’t worked because the offenders are not penalised. Maharashtra is now talking about penalising the offenders (the ban proposes a penalty from Rs 5,000 up to Rs 25,000) which is the right way to go about it,” Stalin said.

Already, a court case

Meanwhile, the Maharashtra Plastic Manufacturing Association (MPMA) has filed a petition in the Bombay High Court saying the ban would affect over 8,000 industries and could leave around 20 lakh people unemployed.

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