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Penal push for polybag ban
- Bench expresses concern over vanishing greens, clogged sewers

Calcutta High Court on Friday asked the state government to take punitive measures against those flouting the ban on polythene packets (thinner than .02 microns), saying a ban without an associated threat of punishment would not serve any purpose.

The directive followed a public interest litigation filed by an advocate of the same court, Pradip Santithi, who argued that the continued use of polythene packets — in the absence of any threat of punishment whatsoever — was smothering the greens and clogging outlets that drained out the city's waste.

A division bench, comprising Chief Justice A.K. Mathur and Justice A. Banerjee, agreed with the petitioner. Unless a piece of legislation — made up of a set of provisions that would punish people who continued to use polythene of all kinds because it was "convenient" — was in place, there was no saving the city's fragile ecology, the judges felt.

Santithi, besides drawing the court’s attention to the miserable state of the city's greens and drainage system, mentioned several countries all over the world — and states within India — that already had legislation to punish users of polythene. States like Delhi, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh had already banned the product, the advocate argued, and were reaping its benefits. All the three states, along with several hill-stations that suffered the nuisance of polythene-carrying and polythene-disposing tourists, were breathing a lot more freely with the ban and the penal provisions in place, he said.

The court saw sense in the logic. Asking advocates representing various government agencies to convey its concern to the relevant departments, the court stressed that it was imperative to take punitive measures, along with the ban on the use of polythene thinner than .02 microns, to improve the environmental health of the state and its capital city.

Those representing agencies like the West Bengal Pollution Control Board (PCB) and the Calcutta Municipal Corporation, tried to impress upon the judges the seriousness with which the agencies were dealing with the problem. Counsel for the state PCB Manik Das, for instance, told the court that the state environment department had already started a campaign to restrain people from using polythene and sensitise them to its ills.

Use of polythene packets had been "totally" banned in places that attracted tourists, he said, citing instances of Victoria Memorial and the Alipore Zoological Gardens in the city proper. Elsewhere in the state, like at Hazarduari, in Murshidabad, polythene packets are banned.

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