THE state government has set yet another deadline for ‘complete’ ban on plastic bags below 40 microns – July 2017. Heavy fine would be imposed for violation on sellers and users. The state has been trying to ban plastics since 2000, when it outlawed plastics below 20 microns, a thickness which was raised to 40 microns subsequently. The ban is in line with the government’s plan to make the state garbage-free over the next two years. Having seen earlier deadlines on plastic ban fail, people are sceptical if the new deadline will work. The government is relying on mass awareness drives, which were not part of earlier deadlines. The latest announcement is perhaps a climbdown from the earlier central government decision to make use of plastic bags below 50 microns. Will Goa have its own rule or will it follow the central government directions?
Last October, the state government announced that sellers and retailers of plastic carry bags would have to register themselves with local bodies to get a certificate from them confirming that they are selling plastic carry bags which are of not less than 50 micron thickness. Under the new central Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016, plastic carry bags should be available only with shopkeepers/street vendors and sellers who are registered with local bodies on payment of annual registration fee of Rs 48,000. The state government has already banned use of plastic bags below 40 microns under the Goa Non-Biodegradable Garbage (Control) Act, 1996. While Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar wants to enhance the fine for violation to Rs 10,000, the Act provides for a fine of Rs 5,000 with one month imprisonment. Though plastic bags below 40 microns continue to be supplied and sold in the state’s markets, no case has been registered so far against those supplying plastic bags below 40 microns, despite of the fact that the law has been in force since 2000.
The problem is not only about plastic litter. Plastic bags are a serious problem in Goa and can be seen littered all over the roads, and in the drains and public places. They also have been primary cause for stagnation in flow of waters and choking of drains. Plastic bags are also ‘collected’ and burnt by individuals and even the staff of the local self-government bodies along the roads or in open spaces creating health hazards. Anyone found burning plastic waste is liable to pay a fine of Rs 25,000 but despite the burning of plastic burning being common no action has been taken against the violators of law. As the new rules have banned manufacture of plastic bags below 50 microns on the ground that plastic bags below that limit pose threat to environment and human health, it is also necessary that the authorities allow manufacturers to produce plastic bags that were permissible. If the source of supply of banned plastic is cut the state could implement the law in a better fashion.
Failure to act against violators only indicates that there is lack of will on the part of the state authorities to free the state of the menace. In order to achieve success and make Goa free from plastic, the authorities need to draw a plan to implement the law against plastic littering and plastic burning by involving the local bodies and good Samaritans, whose services could be used for identifying habitual offenders of the law and acting against those found disobeying the law. Though many people violate the law openly no action appears to have been taken against anyone as the government records reveal. Surprisingly, the power to act against the offenders is vested with the environment department, which appears to have limited its role to just issuing statements and making announcements that the offenders would be prosecuted but has failed to take any action.
To make the ban successful, the state government has to ensure that local officials are empowered to act against violators or else the law will remain unimplemented. The government might need to amend the law to provide for devolution of powers to local officials. Though the government announced that use of plastic cups and other plastic cutlery would be banned from the state government offices and functions conducted by the government, the directions have not been implemented. As people’s co-operation is vital for the success of making Goa free from the menace of plastic, the authorities must invest in creating awareness by involving all sections of society, including housewives and youth. At the same time they must act strongly against violators, whether sellers or users.