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Few care for ban on plastic bags

Several illegal units running in city but don’t have powers to take action, say PMC officials

Written by Atikh Rashid |
December 29, 2014 4:56:29 am
The administration can take action against traders who give carrybags to customers without making an entry  in the bill The administration can take action against traders who give carrybags to customers without making an entry in the bill

The ban on plastic bags has proved a dud in the city. Though the use and sale of plastic bags with thickness less than 50 mircons is officially banned in city limits, these are openly used by fruit and vegetable vendors, food joint owners and meat sellers.

Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) officials who are supposed to oversee the implementation of the ban say they neither have infrastructure nor powers to make the ban a reality. They say they are “doing what they can do” but for making the ban a success they need help and cooperation of other government departments. According to them, illegal manufacturing of low-quality plastic bags in and around the city needs to be controlled first — the powers to do which are with the Pollution Control Board.

Meanwhile, the unbridled use of plastic is leading to rampant littering and subsequent environmental and health problems.

In addition to the ban on the use of plastic bags which have thickness less than 50 microns in July this year, the PMC had approved a proposal to ban the use of plastics bags completely — irrespective of their thickness. As per this proposal, the administration can take action against traders who offer customers carrybags without making an entry in the bill. The PMC had also directed the traders to charge customers Rs 15 per carrybag, irrespective of its size so as to discourage use of these bags.

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For about a month after the policy was announced, PMC officials conducted raids, ran campaigns and made sale, use and circulation of these bags difficult. Over time, the raids stopped and the carrybags are back in circulation.

According to Suresh Jagtap, a PMC official who is in charge of solid waste management and deals with the issue of plastic bag ban, the civic body’s drive against the use of these bags slowed down due to many reasons, including the assembly polls that kept officials busy with other responsibilities.

“It’s true that the thrust that we showed initially is now lacking. There are several reasons for that. Many of us got busy with the assembly polls and hence could not pay the attention the issue demands. Also, though the PMC has certain powers to effect and implement the policy to ban the use of plastic bags, we don’t have the power to control the manufacturing of these bags. Still, we have been conducting sporadic raids against the wholesalers who supply these bags and also vendors who use these bags and don’t charge the customer for it as per the rule,” said Jagtap. He said there were “several illegal and underground” polythene bag manufacturing units in the city that were making these bags easily available to the traders at cheap rates.

“To manufacture carrybags is not a very expensive enterprise. There are several people who run small manufacturing units from a small room with say 100 square feet area. It hardly takes an investment of Rs 4-5 lakh. Our challenge is to control such manufacturing of plastic bags and their subsequent distribution. We don’t have the powers to inspect, raid and penalise these units, the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board has. We have requested them to take necessary action, we hope they act,” said Jagtap.

The PMC also received a setback after the manufacturers of carrybags approached the High Court to challenge the blanket ban on use of any type of carrybags. The verdict in the case is awaited.

According to activist Vivek Velankar, besides hampering garbage processing, plastic carrybags result in waterlogging during the monsoons and may lead to disasters like the one experienced in Mumbai in 2005.

“The PMC should keep conducting raids as we have seen that for fear of heavy penalties (Rs 5,000 to Rs 10,000) the vendors stop keeping the bags. Also, there is no loss in conducting the raids as the PMC collects huge amounts in fine. Also, another important aspect of this problem is that we had suggested the PMC to try using the plastic waste to construct roads. We have seen that such experiences in Bangalore and Hyderabad were successful and there is no harm in trying the same in Pune but they don’t have any willpower to try new things,” said Velankar.

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