Questions on plastic: Limited data, diffused focus in Parliament replies

India will host the official global World Environment Day celebrations on June 5. The theme will be ‘Beat Plastic Pollution’. But MPs also seem interested in the many uses of plastic — from parks to notes to roads.

Written by Sowmiya Ashok | Updated: March 7, 2018 7:47:42 am
India will host the World Environment Day celebrations on June 5. (Express Archive)

India will host the World Environment Day celebrations on June 5, Environment Minister Harsh Vardhan and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) head Erik Solheim announced on Monday. UNEP picks a different host country for the official celebration every year. Canada, the host last year, offered free passes to its national parks through 2017, keeping with the theme of “Connecting People to Nature”.

This year’s theme is “Beat Plastic Pollution”. At the announcement, Minister Vardhan said coexistence with nature has long been part of India’s philosophy and lifestyle. “From pan-Indian plastic clean-up drives in public areas, national reserves and forests to simultaneous beach clean-up activities, India will lead the initiative by setting an example,” he said.

UNEP does not maintain comprehensive global plastics pollution data. “We should focus on creating awareness about the problem, rather than collecting information on the magnitude of the problem at this stage,” Solheim told The Indian Express. India was picked because “it is a significant and important country”, he said.

How has India looked at its plastics problem in recent years? Questions in Parliament on “plastics” from 2014 to 2018 suggest the discussion has travelled beyond the Environment Ministry — MPs have spoken on plastic notes (Finance Ministry) and parks (Chemicals and Fertilisers), petrol from plastics (Science and Technology), plastic packaging for food (Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution), plastic roads (Road Transport and Highways), and even plastic bullets (Home). Replies have sometimes been recycled from older replies, and have often quoted the same outdated data.

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On December 29, 2017, the Environment Ministry was asked if Cyclone Ockhi had dumped plastic debris along the coast, whether the government had data on the amount, and whether it had an emergency plan to tackle the issue.

In his reply, MoS Mahesh Sharma said, “Ockhi Cyclone resulted in agglomeration of plastic debris along the coasts of Maharashtra, Kerala, Karnataka, Goa and Gujarat etc., particularly along the major beaches of Mumbai. It has been estimated that about 80 tonnes of waste from the Ocean has been dumped on the city’s coastline due to Ockhi Cyclone.” The central government had no emergency plan since “clearance of such accumulated plastic debris is being managed by the respective State Governments/Union Territories”.

The MoEF gave more or less the same reply to other questions on “plastic waste”, “use of plastic”, or “impact of plastic waste”.

On February 9 this year, Bhiwandi MP Kapil Moreshwar Patil (BJP) asked in Lok Sabha what the average annual consumption of plastic was in the country, how much plastic waste was produced, which cities produced the most plastic waste, and whether the government had conducted any study on the harmful effects of plastic waste on human health.

In his written reply, MoS Sharma cited, first, the National Accounts Statistics 2015 of the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, which estimated the average production and consumption of plastic products between 2011-12 and 2015-16 at 707 million metric tonnes (MMT) per year.

Second, the Minister referred to a report by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), also from 2015. This report, an assessment and characterisation of plastic waste generation in 60 major cities, has often been cited by the MoEF in its responses in Parliament.

“It has been estimated that around 4,059 T/day (tonnes per day) of plastic waste is generated from these cities. Extrapolating this plastic waste generation data from 60 major cities to the entire country, it is estimated that around 25,940 T/day of plastic waste is generated in India,” the report says.

The Ministry conceded that “no study on impact of plastic waste on environment was carried out by the Ministry during last three years”. However, between 1997 and 2010, task forces, committees, or the CPCB examined the environmental impact of plastic waste every few years, and formulated action plans for its management, it said.

The Ministry told Parliament that it had notified the Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016, a “comprehensive revision” of the 2011 Rules. Salient features included “the expansion of the applicability area to include the entire country, the minimum permissible thickness of plastic carry bags increased from 40 to 50 microns; use of waste plastic in co-generation of energy and road construction, plastic waste minimisations, source segregation”.

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The government has been more specific about its plans to set up “plastic parks”.

In March 2015, replying to a question from Sasaram Lok Sabha MP Chhedi Paswan (BJP), the Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilisers said the government had approved a scheme for “setting up of need-based plastic parks with requisite state-of-the-art infrastructure and enabling common facilities, to assist the sector move up the value chain and contribute to the economy more effectively”. The Government of India provides grant funding up to 50% of the project cost, subject to a ceiling of Rs 40 crore per project under the scheme, the reply said.

More recently, on February 6, 2018, the Centre said it had approved 10 plastic parks based on proposals from state governments. “In phase-I of the scheme, based on approval of DPRs, four Plastic Parks are in various stages of implementation in the States of Assam, Madhya Pradesh (Tamot), Odisha and Tamil Nadu. In Phase-II of the scheme, based on consideration of preliminary proposals received from the States of Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Punjab, West Bengal, Uttarakhand, Manipur, Jammu & Kashmir and Rajasthan, six Plastic Parks have been given in principle approval in the States of Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh (Gwalior), Haryana, Chhattisgarh, West Bengal and Uttarakhand,” it told Parliament.

On March 14, 2017, in reply to a question from Nalgonda Lok Sabha MP Sukender Reddy Gutha (Congress) on whether the National Green Tribunal had brought to the government’s notice the “rampant use of plastic flags and banners by political parties during elections”, then Environment Minister Anil Dave gave an odd reply.

“The NGT directed the Ministry and the State Government to consider and pass appropriate direction in relation to ban on short life PVC and chlorinated plastics. Necessary actions in this regard are taken as part of the Plastic Waste Management regime in the country,” he said.

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