Plastic Bag. Elastic Ban.
Why the recent ban by the Delhi Government on plastic carry bags is both necessary and misplaced and why legislation is no substitute for logic.
The ban on plastic carry-bags by the Delhi Government, pursuant to High Court orders to similar effect, exhibits in one stroke the absence of sense on the one hand and the hypocrisy that maims political will on the other. It also points to the stark reality that government is today unable to respond to righteous needs and must needs the fig leaf of judicial activism to take cover before taking action for fear of displeasing one or the other lobby. We saw that in the CNG issue, in the sealing and demolitions issues, in the electricity meters issue even, more ridiculously, in the cow catching orders of the Supreme Court where a judge ordered MCD to offer a cash reward to people for doing so. In each case, a problem of governance required a reference to the Courts and took the judicial intervention to effect a change in legislation.
Now that the plastic lobby has cried itself hoarse claiming that this move ruins businesses [and lives] across the city, it might serve to make us laugh at the sudden penury of hitherto prosperous businessmen just because a certain micron of plastic bag is banned. But it does not also explain the knee jerk and almost senile response by the government and its department heads to shut out the menace with its typical head-in-the-sand style. That is why the recent spate of advertisements from an overactive State Environment Ministry, justifying the ban and offering organic bag substitutes to bolster its case. It has become so ridiculous that the environment department is actually looking like the marketing agency for the jute industry!
The unfortunate result, of course, is that we are yet again making a law infructuous even as we give it birth and in the process ridiculing once again the sanctity of lawmaking. Nowhere is the rule being enforced except in some class-conscious markets. For the rest, plastics bags continue as before. The reason is not difficult to see. How does this government expect, without alternatives in comparable terms that a poor labourer in East Delhi will buy a bag for 10 Rupees after buying half a kg of potatoes for less than that? Or that the retailer who serves such a poor clientele would be able to afford giving away free organic bags that cost the same. Oh!, But the Chief Minister thinks they ought to get themselves a cloth bag to carry around at all times! There you go again. Unrealistic, superficial, and tokenism at its worst.
The problem with the oft-repeated idea of replacement of plastic bags with organic bags is that it does not take into account the two fundamental reasons why this will never happen. The customer will not bother to carry a bag with him at all times because of inconvenience. He or she will not pay for expensive organic substitutes every time they make a purchase. And neither will the retailer supply expensive organic substitutes free of cost. So what is the solution?
A lateral view:
I have been working on this issue for a long time and our solution stems from finding a mechanism that is not only practical but also sustainable. We have since then developed a process which is called the Eco Bags Exchange [ EBX*] process which solves all three problems and doesn’t cost any one. It works on the simple premise of offering the bag at a deposit which can be reclaimed by the customer anytime he or she wants to return the bag.
We have had a great beginning with the project. One of the first things that has happened is the involvement of Earth Matters Foundation [EMF] which has offered us a grant in aid last month. EMF is a foundation led by well known film maker and environmentalist Mike Pandey. The entire association between EBX and EMF was authored by Mike’s nephew Arjun Pandey, himself a film maker and the collaboration was launched on March 8th at a wonderful event at the Garden of Five Senses in New Delhi, where the Austrian Ambassador released the bags and the Austrian Chamber orchestra played some terrific music. See accompanying picture, and related photos on the link below.
I welcome your views on taking this campaign further, so if you have suggestions or ideas, do share them with me.
*[Patent-filed © Sanjay Kaul 2008]