With pressure building up on Maharashtra to go easy on its single-use plastic ban, the state has now become a test case for showing India is prepared to walk the green law talk. A whole range of disposables like water bottles, cups, plates, spoons and straws to carry bags and thin polythene sheets come under the one-use category. Very few of them are recycled. As much as 8 million metric tons of plastic end up in the ocean each year. According to an estimate, if the trend is not reversed, by 2050 there could be more plastic in the ocean than fish.
The state began well in March by giving all stakeholders three months notice to clean up their act before enforcing the ban last week. It also launched a propaganda blitz to send the message loud and clear. Most important, it got its politics right, as the person spearheading the campaign is Environment Minister Ramdas Kadam, who belongs to the mercurial Shiv Sena. With Kadam doing the tough talk, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis of the BJP couldn’t have asked for more.
Yet there were interest groups that hoped the policy would be implemented with the same level of seriousness as, say, the ban on smoking in public places. But they were taken by surprise as stringent penalties—from `5,000 to `25,000 for three levels of violations—began working as a deterrent. Upset traders have now warned of a strike if retail outlets are not allowed to use plastic packaging. E-tailers, too, are worried about cost escalation and delivery schedules as they do not have easy alternatives to plastic wraps. And opposition parties are milking the controversy.
When Prime Minister Narendra Modi earlier this month pledged to eliminate all single-use plastics in India by 2022, it made global headlines. But if Maharashtra, one of India’s biggest states, falters, enforcing the ban elsewhere in the country would become extremely difficult. Other states are waiting and watching the Maharashtra experience. Here’s hoping it overcomes its teething troubles and emerges successful. Godspeed.