MUMBAI: The Bombay High Court declined today to stay the Maharashtra government's decision to ban plastic materials and asked citizens to dispose of their existing stock within three months.
The court, while giving an interim ruling on a bunch of petitions opposing the ban, maintained it cannot overlook the adverse impact of plastic waste on the environment.
On March 23 this year, the state government had issued a notification, imposing a ban on manufacture, use, sale, distribution and storage of all plastic materials such as one-time-use bags, spoons, plates, PET and PETE bottles and also thermocol items.
The notification gave a period of three months to the manufacturers, distributors and retailers to dispose of the existing stock of the banned items.
Consumers and users were, however, given only a period of one month to dispose the same.
The notification was challenged in the high court by plastic, PET bottle and thermocol manufacturers and retailer associations on the ground that the ban was arbitrary, bad in law and violates their fundamental right to livelihood.
Petitions challenging the notification had sought an interim stay on the implementation of the ban pending hearing of their pleas.
A division bench of justices Abhay S Oka and Riyaz Chagla today refused to stay the notification after observing the court cannot ignore the adverse effects of plastic waste on the environment.
"We are aware that the petitioners and all those persons involved in the business of plastic materials may suffer loss due to the ban. However, we have to consider the impact of plastic waste on the environment and the eco-system in general and the effect thereof on citizens. The harmful effects of plastic waste are multifold," the court said.
The bench said it does not feel that the imposition of such restrictions infringe upon the fundamental rights of the petitioners.
The court directed the petitioners to file representations before a special committee set up by the government on the issue.
"We are not experts on the issue. We cannot decide which material would have worse impact on the environment. Hence, we direct the committee to hear the representations of the petitioners and all other stakeholders and decide if any modification is required to be made to the notification," the court said.
The said representations shall be heard and decided as expeditiously as possible, the judges said.
The court, however, felt the government's decision of giving consumers only a month's time to dispose of plastic materials in their possession was wrong.
"If the manufacturers and retailers have been given three months time then the same should be extended to citizens too. We direct the state government to ensure that no citizen found in possession of the banned items shall be prosecuted for a period of three months (from March 23)," it ordered.
As per the government's notification, any person found in possession of plastic material can be prosecuted under Section 9 of the Maharashtra Non-Biodegradable Garbage (Control) Act, 2006.
Under this section, a person faces fine up to Rs 5,000 for first time offence and imprisonment of three months for subsequent offences.
The judges observed that a citizen will not be in a position to dispose of plastic materials within a period of one month if proper provisions and facilities are not made available to them.
The HC, while declining to stay the notification, relied on the government's affidavit that said in Maharashtra, 1,200 tonnes of plastic waste is generated each day and there is no proper scientific provision for its disposal.
"The government is faced with a serious issue of generation of plastic waste which is why imposition of such restrictions cannot be said to be unreasonable.
"Manufacture, use and sale of plastic bags and other plastic items have a direct nexus to the creation of 1,200 tonnes of plastic waste each day," the court said.
The court admitted the petitions for final hearing which will take place on June 8.