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Time to Get Tough On Plastic Sellers

THE state authorities have now made it mandatory for the wholesalers and retailers of plastic carry bags to register themselves with local bodies and get a certificate from them confirming that they were selling plastic bags with thickness below 50 microns. The decision, in tune with the central government’s decision, is aimed at dealing with the ever-growing plastic waste on streets, market places and open spaces. The fight against plastic in the state began nearly two decades ago but has met with little or no success. The state has already banned the use of plastic bags below 40 microns under the Goa Non-Biodegradable Garbage (Control) Act, 1996. Despite ban, sale of plastic bags below 40 microns continues and people continue to use them, with the enforcement authorities doing little to enforce the law.

Though the monitoring committees headed by district collectors to checking the progress of the implementation of the law against plastic exist in the state, their observation and supervision has led to no deterrent action against offenders. There are also flying squads supposedly for special enforcement drives under the Goa Non Biodegradable Garbage (Control), Act but they exist only on paper.  Though the act has mandated that violators of the ban on plastic below the permissible micron limit could be fined Rs 5,000 with one month imprisonment, no action against violators has been taken, allowing people to disregard the provisions of the law with impunity. Besides, even though six months have passed after the central rules were notified to put an end to the use of carry bags of not less than 50 microns and making them available with only registered plastic vendors, the rules are yet to be implemented in the state, which indicates that the state authorities are not very keen on fighting the plastic waste problem.

Ever since plastic bags replaced paper for packaging groceries, food items, etc,  the state has faced problems relating to their disposal.  In most cases plastic bags are disposed of in public places, roads, rivers, forests, etc and consumed by animals and fish that cause damage to their health owing to ingestion of the chemicals and can also lead to death of individual animals or mortality of a large number. Humans ingest contaminated fish and mammals which can lead to health hazards. Besides, the very production of plastic bags causes safety problems at the production stage as many chemical additives that give plastic products desirable performance properties also have negative environmental and human health effects. Though plastic bags were considered a boon by shopkeepers as packaging became easier, the subsequent fallout has caused a far greater problem for animals and people. A few years ago some shopkeepers started delivering items in paper bags but they discontinued as others continued to use plastic bags and there was no check on them. If there is strict monitoring and penalties are imposed for violation of the law, both shopkeepers and consumers can be motivated to use paper bags. Slowly people will realize that as paper decomposes and plastic does not they would be ultimately bringing harm to themselves and their future generations.

Though new stringent rules on plastic carry bags came into being more than six months ago, hardly anything has been done to enforce them. Government action has been limited to issue of circulars to local bodies, asking them to start implementing the rules. As has been the case with the previous directives, local bodies have failed to file compliance report, which clearly suggests that they have not bothered to implement the most recent directives. As the situation has reached alarming proportions the authorities need to ensure that the latest directives were earnestly implemented by all, be they the implementing agencies, manufacturers, sellers or consumers. The authorities need to carry out drives at frequent intervals to ensure that plastic bags below the permissible limit were not available for sale, as also to sensitize people on hazards of plastic and to get their co-operation in proper disposal of used plastic bags. Besides, there should be periodical checks on the manufacturers of plastic bags to ensure that they do not produce bags that were less than 50 microns thick; those found violating the limit should be made to pay penalty. Merely having a law and rules is not enough to deal with the plastic menace and the authorities must go after the unscrupulous elements that have only grown bolder and bolder as they see no policing and suffer no penalties. It is time we send some of the illegal manufacturers and sellers of non-permitted plastic bags to jail.

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