Delhi slaps blanket ban on plastic bags
Sep 12, 2012, 02.24AM IST

NEW DELHI: After a false start three years ago, Delhi may finally be on the road to being free of plastic bags. The Delhi cabinet on Tuesday approved imposition of a blanket ban on use, storage, sale and manufacture of plastic bags in the city.

The new ban, more comprehensive and better thought out, will supersede the earlier notification issued in January 2009 that prohibited only the use, storage and sale of plastic bags in commercial areas.

"There will be no leniency in implementing the blanket ban and crackdown on violators will be more aggressive this time," chief minister Sheila Dikshit said.

A notification on the ban will be issued soon and the government will have one year from that date to implement the ban completely.

The 2009 ban failed to make any difference in the city largely due to poor implementation. This time, the government has moved to plug loopholes in that law.

The ban has been extended to include all plastic bags, even those made of virgin or bio-degradable plastic of 40 microns or more thickness, which had previously been permitted. The only exception will be use of plastic carry bags under the Bio-Medical Waste Management and Handling Rules of 1998.

The ban now includes manufacturing of plastic bags and use of plastic sheets, films or covers for packaging books, magazines or cards.

Plastic ban: Traders say govt ignored them

"The 2009 ban did not do too well since the crackdown on violations was poor. Although a number of agencies had been authorized to take action, only the Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC) carried out raids. With plastic bags proliferating in the city, this action was just not sufficient," said a senior government official.

The official added that the DPCC member secretary was required to personally appear in court to file challans against offenders. "On such days, he spent his entire time in court and that took a huge toll on other work," he said.

Since in the previous order manufacturing was permitted within the city limits, these bags finally made their way to local markets. "There was also confusion regarding the kind of plastic bags permitted. In the previous ban, bags of 40-micron thickness or more and biodegradable plastics were permitted. But since there is no way of measuring thickness or assessing the plastic without sending the bag to a laboratory, we decided to impose a complete ban," he said.

The ban is also likely to be more effective this time, say sources, because it is a government initiative and not due to the high court's orders which brought about the 2009 ban. "The previous ban was imposed since civic agencies were unable to handle the city's municipal waste problem. The court said since they couldn't handle the waste, they should ban the problem issues, one of which was plastic. Now that the government is acting on its own intent, implementation should be better," said Bharti Chaturvedi, director of NGO Chintan.

Around one lakh people are directly employed in manufacturing of plastic bags and a few lakh more in selling and distribution. However, barely a fraction of them are recognized by the government since only 200-300 of the nearly 4,000 manufacturing units are actually authorized. The remaining are located in unrecognized industrial areas and function without a licence from the state pollution control board.

Expectedly, the ban has met with heavy criticism from the traders' associations, who said the government did not take their concerns into account.

"The matter is already in the Supreme Court and only the final hearing is to take place. Why was the government in such a hurry to bring about another proposal? Now that the cabinet has cleared this ban, we will appeal to the SC to conduct final hearing in the case as soon as it can," said Ravi Agarwal, chairman of the environment committee of the All India Plastic Industries Association.

Agarwal said when the draft notification for the ban was issued, the high court had said that the government will not be allowed to implement it for a week from the date of notification. "We will approach the HC in this matter now," he added.

The ban on manufacturing is what is pinching the industry. "The earlier ban rendered thousands jobless but at least the industry in Delhi did not shut down. Around 4,000 carry bag manufacturing units are functioning across the city and once the market was closed to them, they had started supplying to neighbouring states. Now, even this option has been closed," said Taresh Singh, a trader.

"Lakhs of people will lose their jobs but the government seems to have given them no thought. We will take a representation to the chief minister and ask her to constitute a task force comprising the industry and government officials to work out alternatives to plastic and formulate a rehabilitation plan," said Praveen Khandelwal, general secretary, Confederation of All India Traders.