New Delhi, May 7: The Supreme Court today voiced concern over the extensive use of plastic bags and the dangers they posed to the environment, saying unless steps were taken the next generation faced a threat greater than an “atom bomb”.
The court, which was hearing a petition by two non-government organisations working to protect animals, declared its intent to completely ban use of such bags or make it mandatory for manufacturers to pick up their plastic waste and recycle it.
“Unless there is a complete ban or plastic-manufacturers retrieve and recycle the plastic, the next generation faces a threat that is greater than the atom bomb,” Justice G.S. Singhvi, sitting alongside Justice S.J. Mukhopadhyaya, said.
Justice Singhvi also impleaded plastic makers in the case so that their views could be placed before the bench.
A nation-wide ban on the use of plastic bags thinner than 20 micron thickness is already in place, but states have the option of imposing even more stringent limits.
The petitioners had underlined the dangers plastic bags posed to animals, saying that cows and, in some cases, even turtles had landed up in hospital with disposable plastic bags in their stomach.
The NGOs, Karuna Society for Animals and Nature and the Visakha Society for Protection and Care of Animals, said it was a fundamental duty of every citizen to be compassionate towards living creatures.
Their counsel, Shyam Divan, said the open garbage disposal system had led to a situation in which animals were ingesting plastic bags often used to throw away edible waste.
The petition said government inaction had led to a situation where the right to life guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution was being violated. “The right to life includes a right to healthful living,” it said, adding that the state was “under an obligation to prevent extreme cruelty and pain caused to animals by governmental inaction”.
“The ingestion of plastic from plastic bags chokes the stomach of cows,” the petition said, adding that at times, cows are filled with plastic waste that weighed over 50kg. “What appears to be a ‘healthy’ cow, is in fact a ‘plastic-choked cow’,” it claimed.
“Apart from the plastic completely choking the digestive system of the cow and causing excruciating pain to the animal, the plastic residues enter the human food chain through dairy and animal products. Since the health of human beings is directly impacted by animal products such as milk and meat which are contaminated by plastic residue, the issues raised in this petition directly impact the right to life guaranteed under Article 21,” the petition said.
The petitioners demanded appropriate directives under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, prohibiting use, sale and disposal of plastic bags in all municipalities and municipal corporations and also to phase out the open garbage disposal system.