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Choked drains with plastic have caused 200 deaths in Mumbai: Ramdas Kadam

Thursday, July 05, 2018

For the Shiv Sena, he has been its dependable troubleshooter, taking on its rivals like no other leader can. Initially, his work as Minister for Environment was not noteworthy. But ever since he has taken on the plastic lobby head-on, he has surpassed everybody in terms of popularity. Ramdas Kadam (54) is no novice to politics. He was a four-term MLA representing the Khed assembly constituency between 1990 to 2009. Since 2010, this is his second term as member of the legislative council representing the Mumbai Local Authorities constituency. Here he talks to Prashant Hamine about the rationale behind his decision to enforce a ban on plastic

What was the genesis of the government's decision to ban plastic. Did anyone approach the government with a demand to ban plastic?
Yuva Sena president Aaditya Thackeray had once called me over to Matoshri to discuss the issue of imposing ban on plastics. Noted Bollywood actress Juhi Chawla and wife of Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, Amruta Fadnavis too had demanded a ban on plastic. Without their support this would not have been possible.

On the occasion of World Environment Day, India as the host has taken the lead in proposing a ban on plastic as plastic is causing grave damage to our environment. Daily the state produces around 1,200 tonnes of plastic waste. Plastic does not degrade for 700 to 800 years. The damage it is causing to marine life in the sea is frightening. Whales are coming ashore and dying. Their post-mortem has revealed presence of 40 kg of plastic. Even the fisherfolk are at their wits' end as 40 per cent of their catch at the sea comprises of plastic waste. Plastic waste found in storm water drains and nullahs was responsible for deaths of 200-odd people in the city's floods (which was caused due to plastic bags clogging the storm water drains).

Your critics say that the government has not done enough of public awareness campaigns before enforcing the ban on plastic. What do you have to say about it?
That is not true. Last year itself, in September the government had announced that the plastic ban would come into effect from Gudhi Padva day. Thereafter, in the intervening six months' time the government issued newspaper advertisements, put up advertisements inside State Transport buses and at ST bus stands so as to make the public aware of what kind of plastic has been banned and what is not. For six months we issued advertisements in the media, thereafter three months later we issued the Notification detailing the government decision.

I personally held several press conferences all over the state briefing the media about the government's move to ban plastic. So no one can say that we had not done any pre-publicity of the government's decision to ban plastic. This was not like the 'Notebandi' (demonetisation) decision taken overnight.
 
Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) president has urged the people not to pay the fine for carrying plastic bags. What do you have to say on that?
The uncle has got scared of his nephew's (Aaditya Thackeray) success in banning plastic. He is feeling threatened by the fact that his nephew has come up with a brilliant idea. Actually he should have patted Aaditya Thackeray on the back for taking such a decision. No one is above the law and stern action will be taken against anyone trying to break the law. Probably, he has never gone to the market to buy something for the family.

The criticism has been that the people have not been given any alternative to plastic. What do you have to say about that?
That's not true. Alternatives to plastic are already out in the market. The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has already put up stalls at Worli and about 120 such items were put on display.

The people have welcomed the move. There is change in the public attitude. Now people are carrying steel containers to buy meat, fish and other liquid food items. Cloth bags are already out in the market and people have begun using them.

The other argument is that the fines imposed are too high for the common man to pay. How do you react to this grouse?
Initially, last year, when the state enforced a ban on plastic bags of 40 microns with a fine of Rs 100 to Rs 200 no one took it seriously. Then the government increased the size and banned plastic bags of 50 microns and increased the fine to Rs 500; no one took that seriously too. I have instructed my officials that the common man should not suffer. Strike at the root of the cause, take action against the plastic manufacturers. If there is no plastic bag produced, you will not see people carrying plastic bags.

Seventeen states have so far imposed ban on plastic, we are the 18th state to do so. I sent my department officials to some of the neighbouring states to study how they have taken their decision to ban plastics in their state. My officers also studied the penalties and fines that those states have imposed which has been on the higher side. So no one can say we did not do our homework.

There have been demands from those making decorative items out of thermocol for festivals, weddings, parties to extend the deadline.
Let me clarify here that the government has not given any concessions on extending the deadline. Their memorandum will be placed before the High Powered Committee (HPC) which comprises of senior BJP and Sena ministers. Our say has been that – show us the plan of how they are going to recollect and deposit the sold material with the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC). They have assured me that from next year they will be producing decoration items made out of cardboards. Thermocol is the worst of the lot, it simply does not decompose easily and burning plastic waste only adds up to the air pollution.

The anti-ban lobby is arguing that the ban will result in job losses. What do you have to say about that?
Truth be told, 80 per cent of the plastic items are manufactured in Gujarat and is brought here from Daman. Why should I be worried about the manufacturing units closing down in Gujarat. What would they do when the Gujarat government enforces a similar plastic ban in their state. At least listen to Prime Minister Narendra Modi who has advocated ban on plastic.

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