Polythene bags resurface, mock at Govt's ban

Greater Kashmir

Excise department, PCB, SMC look the other way as import, use of banned material continues

Srinagar, Jan 19: The ban on polythene carry bags in Jammu and Kashmir has turned out to be a cosmetic measure from the Government, given the widespread availability of the banned substance in the market. While the Government gives to understand that the ban is in force, the occasional campaigns that departments like Pollution Control Board, Srinagar Municipal Corporation and local bodies used to carry out several years ago, are not to be seen anymore. Together with the almost unchecked import, polythene carry bags have again flooded the markets of the state, as if the ban does not exist. This is despite the commercially viable options of introducing eco-friendly alternatives in the market like jute, cloth, paper carry bags besides of other bio-degradable material.
As per SRO-182 issued by the state Government on June 18, 2008, in exercise of powers conferred by Jammu & Kashmir Non-Biodegradable Material (Management, Handling and Disposal) Act, 2007, polythene carry bags of any thickness are banned in the state. After the issuance of the SRO, manufacture, trade, transportation or use of polythene carry bags became illegal in the state. Earlier, several states like Delhi had banned carry bags of less than a certain thickness but the J&K government’s blanket ban was a relatively bold step.
But it seems the state government lacks the will and technology to check the import of the material in the state. After the imposition of the ban, several industrial units manufacturing polythene carry bags were closed by the government but the continuing import of the material has nullified the purpose of the ban.
As per the Jammu & Kashmir Non-Biodegradable Material (Management, Handling and Disposal) Act, 2007, and the consequent Jammu & Kashmir Non-Biodegradable Material (Management, Handling and Disposal) Rules, 2009, State Pollution Control Board is the nodal agency for the legislation, responsible for implementing the ban and local bodies, like Srinagar Municipal Corporation and smaller municipal bodies, responsible for executing the ban on the ground.
After the previous coalition government tried to enforce the ban in the light of SRO-182 and clamped down on wholesale traders of the material, sources said the latter tried to lobby with the Government for going soft on the issue citing their economic interests. But the Government gave a wide publicity of its ‘seriousness’ on the ban with chief minister Omar Abdullah going public that the Government won’t budge under any pressure on the issue and that the ban would be implemented in letter and spirit.
But it seems that the Government had some after-thoughts on the matter. Import and use of the banned material was again started as the government agencies adopted a ‘go slow’ approach.
Officials in the Government admit that they were being questioned by the public circles during market checking that why was polythene being allowed to be imported into the state at the first place if the Government was serious on its ban.
“We face embarrassing situation when we go in the market on anti-polythene drive and ask a petty trader to desist from dealing in polythene. He rightly questions the Government allowing its manufacture and import at the first place,” said a top officer of Srinagar Municipal Corporation, wishing anonymity.
Government’s plan to install polythene scanners at Lakhanpur Toll Post to curb smuggling of polythene into the state is facing continuous delays. Division Bench of J&K High Court comprising Chief Justice Mahesh Kumar Mittal and Justice Hasnain Massodi, in response to a Public Interest Litigation (PIL), had asked the state government to take effective measures to stop transportation of polythene carry bags into the state. The Court had asked the government to take steps to stop entry of polythene at the entry points—Lakhanpur, Railway Stations Jammu and Udhampur and Lower Munda in Kashmir.
Only last week, J&K State Pollution Control Board expressed deep concern on the easy availability of polythene carry bags in the markets, asking the concerned field departments to implement the ban on the product. PCB Chairman Suresh Chugh emphasised that the illegal import of polythene in the State from neighbouring states is going on and even didn’t rule out the possibility of its clandestine manufacture within the State.