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The Gujarat High Court has directed the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation to investigate continued sale of plastic bags in shops despite a directive to charge for plastic bags which expired in April 2012. Some retailers are now even making consumers pay for paper bags which also violates norms
Did you know that there’s a good chance that you’re a “brand ambassador” for a big (or small) corporation? Surely, you’ll realise this when you pay as much as Rs10 for shopping bags, that come embedded with large logos, sold in retail outlets. Some retail outlets charge as much as Rs10 for a plastic shopping bag and, in increased instances, even paper bags for you to carry all your purchases and shopping items. Did you know charging for paper bags is clear violation of norms? But it is happening all over India. What is worse is that in Gujarat, it is reported that consumers continue to pay for plastic bags, even though the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation’s (AMC) directive for sale of plastic bags and charging for the same had expired, way back in April 2012 itself.
The Gujarat High Court has issued notices to the AMC, ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) and the Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPB), questioning the continued sale of plastic bags in shops and malls and charging consumers for the same. This order by the high court came into light when the Consumer Education and Research Society (CERS) had filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) against AMC questioning why consumers had to pay even though AMC’s directive to charge consumers for plastic bags was not in force.
According to CERS, AMC earlier had issued a circular resolution banning manufacturing and sale of plastic bags measuring less than 40 microns for a period of three months from 1 January 2012 to 31 March 2012. Further more, the circular also states that consumers should pay for the bags. Even after expiry of the directive, shops and malls continued to charge consumers plastic bags even through AMC had not extended or updated its directive. AMC had failed to properly supervise or do its duty.
On a related note, stores like Fab India and Cotton World continue to take to money making. Both these well known brands used to provide eco friendly bags, for free. CottonWorld was one of the best as it gave cloth bags which lasted forever and we still reuse them. It now gives you brown paper, specially printed and priced. Even small fruit and vegetable vendors continue to dispense plastic bags with no check at all.
Take a look at how things have changed from the photos taken by Moneylife. If you look at Fab India’s old newspaper styled bag, which was free, it was far more robust and of better quality than the brown present day variety. Similarly, look at Cotton World—the green cloth bag (incidentally, green is the colour of environment) could easily be used for a long time. And it looked good too. You just had to pay once and reuse it. Now we are made to pay every time for the inferior paper bags that looks ugly as well, that is if we do not carry our own bags.
Earlier, shops used to be doling out free bags at their own expenses and these bags were mostly environmental friendly and of really good quality. Things drastically changed when the Plastic Waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 2011, issued by the Environment ministry came into force, and it was up to each municipal corporation to implement them.
Clause 10 of the Plastic Waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 2011 (The ‘Rules’) states that, “No carry bags shall be made available free of cost by retailers to consumers. The concerned municipal authority may by notification determine the minimum price for carry bags depending upon their quality and size which covers their material and waste management costs in order to encourage their re-use so as to minimize plastic waste generation.”
Worse than AMC not discharging its duty effectively (i.e. making retailers do not misuse the law or directive, even when not in force), according to CERS, retailers and establishments have also been charging for carry bags which are not plastic (paper, cloth, etc.) which is in violation of the MoEF notification. Further the chargeable plastic carry bags do not mention manufacturer’s details and other important stipulations which are also in violation of MoEF’s notification.
According to the notification, “carry bags” (i.e. bags provided by retailers) only applied to plastic bags and not otherwise. According to the Rules, stated in verbatim: “Carry Bags” mean bags made from any plastic material used for the purpose of carrying or dispensing commodities but do not include bags that constitute or form an integral part of the packaging in which goods are sealed prior to use.
Why should consumers pay for paper bags or even environmental-friendly recyclable bags? Where are the authorities to make sure that the law is not being abused? Corporates not only taking advantage of consumers’ lack of awareness but the environment degradation continues. Cloth and paper bags are environmental friendly and costs as much as plastic bags and yet we are made to pay for it, which is ridiculous. Now even essentials such as pharmaceutical and grocery stores are charging for paper bags and have stopped dispensing bags for free. Small fruit and vegetable vendors continue to dispense plastic bags with no check at all and are often less than 40 microns. Moreoever, even if you do carry your own cloth bag (or environmental friendly bags) and do not want to pay for a plastic bag, most of the times, a security personnel will make you forfeit it once you enter a store.
CERS has asked for such illegally charged money collected by retailers and commercial establishments from consumers to be deposited in the State Consumer Welfare Fund and has also requested a provision to be added whereby the amount can be deposited with the AMC, to in turn be utilized for plastic waste management.
The PIL was filed by Ms Pritee Shah Editor INSIGHT on behalf of CERS through Advocate Apurva Dave.
An excellent infographic on plastic bags can be found here.
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