By Ladislaus Louis D’Souza
Mumbai: Innumerable are the writers in the Catholic fold who support – even advocate – the senseless ban on plastic bags and on cutting trees without actually coming up with practical, sensible alternatives or solutions.
The Uttar Pradesh government on July 6 announced its decision to ban the use of polythene bags and items of common use made of plastic from July 15.
The UP government’s move came two weeks after the Maharashtra government implemented a similar ban.
Analytically, what exactly is the reason for the ban on the manufacture and use of plastic bags in the state of Maharashtra? Is it because discarded plastic bags choke the drainage systems of its cities and villages? Or is it because cattle in general and the holy cow in particular end up with cancer of the stomach after stuffing themselves silly with plastic bags eaten up at garbage bins?
If it is the latter, why, one may ask, are cattle allowed to roam free on public thoroughfares, be it in cities, towns or villages? One reason could be that those who own the cattle have no means to provide food for themselves, leave alone fodder for their cattle and so, not allowed to even sell the animal to the butchers, allow their cattle to stray on to the streets and eat whatever is available.
The other reason could be that neither do those who own tabelas or run ‘ghoshallahs’ (cow sheds) nor all those self-styled ‘gau-rakshaks’ (cow protectors) have the wherewithal to actually look after cattle.
Need for better perception
It’s time Catholic proponents of the ban on plastic bags took it upon themselves to start demanding that the state government as well as the civic authorities in cities, towns and villages (a) ensured proper and regular clearance of garbage from all thoroughfares through the year, (b) banned cattle from straying out in the open, (c) fined cattle owners as well owners of tabelas and ghoshallahs a minimum of 5,000 rupees per animal found straying on the streets and, finally, (d) punish the so called gau-rakshaks by charging them with the task of keeping cattle, tabelas and ghoshallahs clean.
As far as plastic bags and other garbage clogging drains and gutters is concerned, an urgent measure to be adopted should be the immediate implementation of rules concerning garbage segregation. Of note, while thermocole products cannot be destroyed no matter what and so their manufacture itself rightly deserves to be banned, plastic in general and plastic bags in particular need to be kept out of the ambit of the ban for the simple reason that even though plastic per se is not biodegradable, it can be either destroyed by being burnt or recycled by way of being melted to make more reusable plastic stuff. One hears of efforts being made by individuals to produce diesel or other fuel out of plastic waste. This is something the government, with the requisite funds, manpower and machinery at its disposal, can indeed take up as an urgent measure.
Aluminium foil junk
A new problem that is already beginning to emerge as a result of the mindless ban on plastic bags and containers is the trays and containers made in all shapes and sizes from aluminium foil now increasingly in circulation. The clogging of drains (and of course cattle tummies) on account of these items can pose a bigger danger that can prove disastrous to the system. Will the government wake up to reality?
Needed: A comprehensive ‘Tree’ policy
How come we Catholics in general have failed to see that simply refraining from cutting trees and instead resorting to planting more trees is not going to prove beneficial to the environment? Several among us have been to Europe, some even more than once. Have we observed the glaring difference in terms of tree management in India and Europe? Cutting of trees is permitted neither in Europe nor in India. But there ends the similarity.
While in India tree management is limited to adhering to the ‘no-cut’ rule, in Europe the norm is not allowing any tree to grow wild. In fact, rules ensure the regular trimming of trees and hedges whereby no tree even in one’s own backyard is allowed to grow wild, facing the possibility of falling or being uprooted due to weather conditions. The result is that every tree big and small in Europe is a sight to behold, what with creativity lending a touch of class and beauty to the tree, simultaneously affording it a kind of healthy growth.
Sanctified pollution, eh?
The government of Maharashtra is so seized of the menace supposedly posed by the widespread use of plastic, particularly bags, that it has begun fining the defaulters among the general public sums as atrocious as 5,000 rupees. What audacity! What about the environmental pollution caused by the annual Ganapati festival in Maharashtra? Trees are chopped mercilessly to make way for processions of massive idols of the state’s favorite god to pass through the lanes and alleys of our cities. Even flyovers are demolished and so rebuilt as to allow the E-god to pass beneath.
Has anyone given a thought to what it is that goes into the sea with the idols at immersion time? Not merely clay but all the plaster of Paris, lime (chuna), wood, plastic, thermocole, glass, fabric, steel, iron, and paint of every kind goes into the sea for 10 consecutive days in a year, enough to put the annual turnover of plastic waste to a phenomenal level. Can one even imagine what this does to the fish and other seafood on our coasts? How much is the government going to charge all those mandals and mandalis for the kind of havoc they are going wreak on environment in the state?
Need for Media initiative
All said and done, the media with its vast potential to gather information at the flick of a button so to say and the wherewithal needed to create due awareness, must needs initiate a process that brings together on a common platform professionals and ordinary citizens alike to study at length all aspects of the ‘plastics’ issue and to come up with viable proposals to be made to the government both at the Centre and in the state, as also to the civic authorities concerned.
These proposals would have to include options that NGOs could take up with due subsidy from the government or municipal corporations concerned. Would any entity in the Catholic media be willing to take the initiative, please?