Agra’s war on plastic: One step forward, two steps back?

June 8th, 2011 - 12:18 pm ICT by IANS  

Agra, June 8 (IANS) It was one of the most successful eco-campaigns in the Taj city, and even earned rare praise from the Uttar Pradesh government, but Agra’s war on plastic bags has suffered a major setback with the transfer of a key official responsible for its implementation.

Agra Municipal Commissioner Vinay Shankar Pandey was transferred to Uttarakhand last month and it has hit the campaign against the use of polythene bags, say citizens. Pandey had launched a programme to decongest the Taj city of polythene bags after he saw the Yamuna river being choked during post-monsoon showers.

The authorities conducted regular raids on markets and commercial areas and those using polythene packets were fined. People were encouraged to shun plastic bags and save their city.

But the alacrity of the initial days has dissipated after Pandey’s exit, activists say.

Surendra Sharma, president of the Braj Mandal Heritage Conservation Society, told IANS: “It is sad and tragic that one man’s battle should end up like this. The momentum should have been sustained and the new officers should have continued with the same zeal.

“When the law is there, the state and central governments have provided legislative support, the apex court and the Allahabad High Court have directed government agencies to ban use of polythene bags below 20 microns, then what is the hitch and why is the law not being enforced?”

Unlike the situation a few months back, the Yamuna river now is choked with polythene bags and plastic bottles. Heaps of plastic are a constant eyesore all over the city.

“The vegetable sellers and halwais (sweet makers) have again started using poly bags, not realising the health and environmental problems,” said Padmini, a homemaker.

Activist Ambar Vishal said all the good work of the past few months has been undone.

“We had drawn international attention after the longest human chain in November on an environmental issue and the three-month long campaign on polythene users and shop-keepers. But now, polythene is back in full force. All the good work done has been nullified in one blow,” he said.

However, authorities maintain all is well.

New Agra Municipal Commissioner Ram Mishra said the campaign against polythene has not been stopped.

Deputy Municipal Commissioner Qasim Raza told IANS: “Now the public should come forward and continue the campaign. We have not stopped the campaign. We tried to create awareness and we did it.”

The Agra Municipal Corporation had launched the campaign against plastic and polythene bags as part of a stepped up effort to clean up this favourite tourism destination.

Encouraged by its success, Uttar Pradesh Governor B.L. Joshi gave his assent to an ordinance to ban the sale of plastic or polythene bags in the vicinity of rivers or any other water body in the state.

In a communication to Pandey, principal secretary for urban development Alok Ranjan had said that all cities in the state have been asked to launch a comprehensive drive to stop the use of plastics and polythene.

“The Agra experience will act as a role model,” he noted.

But now, civil society groups say Pandey’s departure is a blow. “The interest groups which were putting all kinds of obstacles, including using politicians, have finally had the last laugh,” activist Shravan Kumar Singh told IANS.

(Brij Khandelwal can be contacted at brij.k@ians.in)

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