The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) claims to have started its preparations to clean nullahs or de-silt drains ahead of this year’s monsoon. And even as all eyes are on the BMC to see how it manages to keep the city free of waterlogging this year, there is one major anti-flooding initiative that it has not yet been able to implement completely — a ban on plastic bags below 50 microns.
Following the July 2005 deluge, all plastic bags below 50 micron and smaller than 8×12 inches were banned across the city. The reason was that these plastic bags form the bulk of floating material in the nullahs, leading to clogging and subsequent flooding.
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The shops and establishments department set up two teams to crack down on such plastic bags — their manufacture and use — across the city. Each team comprises two shop inspectors, one licence inspector and two security guards. For first-time offenders, the BMC levies a fine of Rs 5,000 and for repeat offenders, Rs 10,000.
“We have been conducting checks every month on shops and distributors selling or distributing plastic bags below 50 micron,” said Arvind Gosavi, Chief Inspector of the BMC’s Shops and Establishments Department. He added that between April and December 2015, the team had seized nearly 1,735 kilos of plastic bags and collected fines totalling Rs 64 lakh. In 2014-15 fiscal, nearly 832 kilos of plastic bags were seized and fines of Rs 37 lakh recovered. In 2013-14 and 2012-13 fiscals, plastics bags of 4,540 kilos and 5,259 kilos were seized, respectively. “The weight of seized plastic bags differ in these years because sometimes we get huge number of plastic bags, sometimes we don’t,” Gosavi added.
However, officials from the storm water drains department did not seem convinced with the situation. “The plastic bags below 50 micron were banned in 2006, the year after the deluge. But plastic, mostly thin one, continues to be thrown into nullahs every year. It then leads to clogging and subsequent waterlogging. The plastic ban must be implemented at a mass level. Everyone blames us for waterlogging but nobody pays attention to this,” said a civic official.
The official added that in slums along side the nullahs, there was too little awareness regarding the connection between plastic bags and flooding.
“The slums adjoining the nullahs must be provided with community bins and awareness should be created. Those around slums have become dumping grounds. It will not only save the nullahs from clogging but also the cost of cleaning them,” said the official.
Citizens too said the civic body had failed to curb the use of plastic bags in the city, regardless of their thickness. “Until the BMC starts penalising hawkers, vegetable vendors, grocery shops, meat and fruit vendors, nothing will happen. There should be a systematic crackdown because people buy many things from these shops and stalls. These shops and vendors must be penalised heavily. Even the Gazdar Bund nullah is choked with plastic today. So waterlogging is inevitable,” said Anil Joseph, Chairperson of Perry Road Residents Association. He welcomed the BMC’s move to ban the plastic bags in parks.
An official from shops and establishment department admitted that they had not been able to take action against hawkers and vendors. “They hide the plastic bags. Also the action must be taken against the manufacturers of plastic bags who are based mainly in Vasai, Daman, Diu and Silvassa,” he said.