CITING the growing challenge of municipal solid waste management in India’s fastest urbanising state, the Maharashtra government has embarked on an ambitious ban on plastic bags, water bottles and disposable single-use plastic items. Maharashtra’s cities have also suffered clogged drains and consequent floods, as well as damage to marine and freshwater bio-diversity and ecosystems. On Friday, the ban kicked in with the issuance of the Maharashtra Plastic and Thermocol Products (Manufacture, Usage, Sale, Transport, Handling and Storage) Notification, 2018.
What items are banned and what’s excluded from the ban?
The ban covers the manufacture, usage, transport, distribution, wholesale and retail sale and storage and import of these items: plastic bags, disposable products manufactured from plastic and thermocol such as single-use disposable dishes, cups, plates, glasses, forks, bowls, containers, non-woven polypropylene bags, cups/pouches to store liquid, packaging or plastic to wrap or store products, plastic packaging for food items and foodgrain. Plastic and thermocol in decorations stand banned too.
The ban will not be applicable to plastic bags or plastic used in packaging of medicines, compostable plastic bags or material used for plant nurseries, horticulture, agriculture and handling of solid waste.
However, the government has made it mandatory to prominently print on such plastic items that they are to be used exclusively for these purposes. Also excluded from the ban are manufacture of plastic and plastic bags in SEZs or export-oriented units. Plastic covers or wraps for material at the manufacturing stage are also excluded.
Will customers get plastic water bottles and milk bags?
Yes, but only though a buyback depository scheme for PET (or PETE) bottles and milk bags. PET bottle manufactures, producers, sellers and traders under the ‘extended producers and sellers/traders responsibility’ will have to develop a ‘buyback depository mechanism’ with a predefined buyback price printed specifically on each bottle. Bottles with a capacity of 1 litre and more and of 0.5 litre will have a predefined buyback price of Re 1 and Rs 2.
For milk bags, the government has said the buyback price should be not less than 50 paise. This would be clearly printed on the bags too. This means consumers can take used bottles and milk bags to traders and sellers who will have to buy them at the predefined buyback price. The government has also asked PET bottle manufacturers, milk dairies, traders and retailers to establish a collection and recycling system within three months from the date of notification. PET bottles with a capacity of less than half a litre will be banned.
Will individual citizens have to pay fines for using plastic bags?
According to the notification, the state government will impose fines ranging from Rs 5,000 for the first offence to Rs 25,000 for the third offence. A maximum punishment of a three-month jail term is also mentioned in the notification. However, these are not to be imposed immediately. Citizens and manufacturers/ traders have been given one month’s time to hand over their existing single-use plastic items and plastic bags to the local municipal or government body. Imposition of fines will begin only afterwards.
Who will implement the ban or impose fines?
The state government has authorized and empowered municipal officials of corporations and councils, officials from the District Collectorate, Zilla Parishad, Maharasthtra Pollution Control Board, Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation, Health, Education, police officials, traffic police, district supply officer, state tax officials, Range Forest Officer and others who will be able to take action towards implementation of the regulations.
Besides, the state government has also said it will register individuals and groups of people including welfare organizations, industrial associations and members of all local bodies who can provide information regarding violations, and assist in imposing fines, confiscating material and registering offences.
What are the doubts regarding the implementation?
First, people are likely to oppose the provision to allow individuals or groups to assist the authorised officers. A previous attempt by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation to appoint ‘cleanliness marshals’ to fine people caught spitting or relieving themselves in public places or throwing garbage on streets ended with complaints of extortion and corruption.
Also, there is no clarity on how the fines would be imposed on customers — would they have to be paid in cash instantly or through a challan system, and how will various authorised officials provide the receipts. “People will welcome the move of allowing them to inform authorities of violations.
But fining and assisting should be done only by the government authorities and not by anybody else. Otherwise it would be illegal and can be challenged in court. Besides, it may lead to vigilantism,” said Anil Joseph, an activist from Bandra (West). Officials from the state Environment Department conceded that they are still to work out modalities regarding how they would impose the fines. In 2005, the BMC had banned plastic carry bags
below 50 microns but that ban could never be implemented effectively. “That is one of the reasons for keeping a steep fine of Rs 5,000 for the first offence itself, so that people desist from buying or possessing banned material,” said an official.