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Plastic banished from babudom

Calcutta, March 4: Babus walking into Writers’ Buildings will now be without two trusted trademarks: the plastic bag and tiny plastic cups filled with steaming tea.

Plastic carry bags, cups and containers less than four inches tall will be banned from all state government offices with immediate effect, environment minister Manab Mukherjee told The Telegraph today.

The order states that “use of all kinds of plastic carry bags and cups and containers less than four inches in height and 40 microns in thickness are banned from all government buildings”. It will soon be circulated to all the secretaries, district magistrates, superintendents of police and administrative heads of various departments.

“We initiated the campaign against plastic pollution in February 2003 and it has gathered momentum since then,” said Shyamal Sarkar, member secretary, West Bengal Pollution Control Board. Ten heritage sites in and around Calcutta, including the Victoria Memorial, the Alipore zoo, National Library and Millennium Park, were declared plastic bag-free. The board’s office in Salt Lake was declared plastic carry bag-free last October.

“Central government rules require the carry bags to be a minimum of 20 microns thick and at least 12 inches-by-8 inches in size. But we have tightened the law in certain areas,” explained Sarkar. Plastic carry bags have been banned from eco-sensitive coastal, hilly and forest areas of the state, including Darjeeling and the Sunderbans.

The government is apparently considering a law on the use of plastic carry bags, as the ones in Delhi or Sikkim, to comply with a high court directive.

While welcoming the move, environmentalists are sceptical about the actual impact of the order. “It may end up being just another administrative order if the authorities don’t come up with a viable alternative at the earliest,” said a city-based activist.

Awareness on the issue and alternatives to plastic bags are still “problem areas”, agrees the board, but work is on to find ways to make the directive effective.

Biswajit Mukherjee, a senior law officer of the board, said: “Around 3,000 shop owners have been penalised so far, with fines of around Rs 10 lakh being collected for use or distribution of plastic bags less than 20 microns thick”. The problem, he stressed, is with public awareness. There has hardly been any complaint against shopkeepers for using “banned” bags.

“Many shop owners said during the hearing they had to continue using plastic bags as customers demanded them. If the attitude of the people does not change, administrative initiatives will not solve the problem,” Mukherjee said.

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