The Ban on Single Use Plastics : Towards Gandhian Ideal Of Clean India
The Gandhian model for social and economic development of Indian society was eclectic and reformtaive in essence. It was a mix of motley principles and values which combined to form a holistic approach towards social, economic and political empowerment of each and every individual in society. For Gandhi no social institution could exist in isolation. Growth of the community was either in each and every dimension or was completely non existent. No wonder that Gandhi insisted that the purpose of education should be the development of entire community. He also believed that a village self sufficient economically, where all needs of people could be met sufficiently is the most successful form of economy. Among all his valuable beliefs like ahinsa, truthfulness, peace and cleanliness, the ones which hold special relevance for contemporary society are undoubtedly ahinsa and cleanliness. For ahinsa or non violence here does not only imply its literal meaning, but it extrapolates to maintaining peace with all elements of life. The biggest tribute modern India could give him has come in the shape of banning the draconian single use plastics (SUPs) from October 2, 2019. It is a decisive step for inculcating the spirit of non violence towards our environment. Besides it is completely in resonance with Gandhian values of cleanliness and hygenie. Hygenie which has to be practiced in thought and then implemented in the external life. According to Gandhi all personal hygenie is pointless unless people keep their surroundings clean. He professed that “Swaraj can only be had by clean, brave people”.
Among all his valuable beliefs like ahinsa, truthfulness, peace and cleanliness, the ones which hold special relevance for contemporary society are undoubtedly ahinsa and cleanliness. For ahinsa or non violence here does not only imply its literal meaning, but it extrapolates to maintaining peace with all elements of life. The biggest tribute modern India could give him has come in the shape of banning the draconian single use plastics (SUPs) from October 2, 2019. It is a decisive step for inculcating the spirit of non violence towards our environment. Besides it is completely in resonance with Gandhian values of cleanliness and hygenie.
It is this legacy of the Gandhian ideal of cleanliness which has inspired the spirit of social transformation in modern India. In the same light the recent ruling of the Central Government against the use of six single use plastic products namely, plastic cups, straws, polythene bags, bottles, spoons and forks, was a much needed governmental intervention. Since the last few years, plastics have become a leading component of the net solid waste being generated in all metros and tier 2 towns across India. As per the Central Pollution Control Board data for the year 2012, India generates almost 26,000 tonnes of plastic a day. Fast forward to 2019 and a similar finding by CPCB states that 80 per cent of the total plastic produced in India lands up in the garbage. It is evident from the scores of garbage piles and overflowing municipal garbage containers in various areas of Dehradun that how plastic waste lays mixed with all different kinds of wastes. The rate of plastic production, usage and disposal is far higher than the rate of recycling even presently. In fact the very genesis of SUPs was with the intention that they should be discarded right after being used once. Here people have given more importance to their convenience rather than ecological considerations. The mindlessly dumped plastic waste slowly finds it way into local drains and then rivers. There it causes various problems like water toxicity, basin blockage leading to changes in river course and resulting in frequent floodings. The same water then ends up in the oceans and further gets eaten up by the sea creatures. The recent report of the US Geological Survey in August 2019, where plastic fibres were also discovered in rain samples near Colorado, only testimonise how plastics have become an integral constituent of the global water cycle.
Besides many stray animals have been reported to be dying painfully after consuming plastic and polythene wastes found openly discarded in drains, river beds and road sides. This itself is an instance of violence being inflicted upon ecology through wanton human action. The provision of separate public dustbins for plastic wastes is grossly insufficient and even in areas where the availability is adequate, people lack the civic sense to throw waste separately. Even presently most households in the city do not practice waste segregation at source. Shops and restaurants are using bulk SUPs like straws, spoons and cups, which people discard carelessly just anywhere. A very critical threat posed by SUPs to human health is often neglected by most people. When exposed to sunlight, heated or frozen these plastics bleed toxins like Bisphenol A (BPA) and Polyvinyl Chloride which trigger grave health disorders in humans. Reusing such thin plastic cups, bottles and spoons is an equally dangerous practice as it facilitates micro plastic residues to enter human body through food and water.
This impending official ban on SUPs from this Gandhi Jayanti onward is not just an end of a noxious practice but a new opportunity for us to dismiss all plastic usage from our lives. Going by the Gandhian wisdom hygenie and cleanliness are indispensable for good physical health and a healthy environment. In his words – “I will not let anyone walk through my mind with their dirty feet”. While in contemporary urban India people still shrug off from the responsibility of manually cleaning their own waste, Gandhi was a great expounder of the belief that “everyone must be his own scavenger”. His close friends in South Africa lovingly called him the ‘great scavenger’. Whenever Gandhi found an opportunity to do a little bit of cleaning work, he felt happy. He with his group of followers would walk with brooms and spades into the remote rural residential localities and sensitise people about cleaning their surroundings. His concern about the environment is manifest in his immense paranoia regarding heavy industrialisation and the use of machinery. He often cautioned against waste mismanagement and air pollution which as per his foresight were dangerous offshoots of urbanisation. Gandhi’s insistence on simple village life and use of swadeshi goods also pointed out to the importance he gave to protection of indigenous ecosystem.
The prime minister Narendra Modi imparted a similar message during the launch of ’swacchata hi seva’ campaign in 2018, when he picked up the broom and demonstrated the importance of every citizen’s participation in national cleanliness movements. Hence we must strive to make this 150th anniversary of the birth of Mahatma Gandhi, a red letter day in the history of modern India. The biggest lesson which we can imbibe from the philosophies and teachings of Mahatma Gandhi is the sensibility to keep our neighbourhood and environment clean and healthy. Plastics have become the biggest bug bear in the process of keeping our city clean.
Let us adopt a strict resolution and begin practicing a systematic segregation of plastic waste at source, separate discarding and above all completely replacing plastics by more eco friendly alternatives like wood, metals and clay. An end has to be put to the production/ manufacturing and circulation of plastics in the society. The government has to tighten its tentacles upon the manufacturing industries of food, beverages and other consumer goods. It must be made mandatory for them to use paper, cloth, leaf or jute derived packaging for their products instead of plastics. Human health and environmental health are the two sides of the same coin. Unless both flourish together a holistic development of any one is just a surreal dream. The ban on single use plastic goods is an opportunity for the citizens to empower themselves against the forces of ecological disruption. A plastic free society is the first and most influential step towards realising the vision of a Gandhian utopia.
(The author is a retired civil servant)
Monday, 30 September 2019 | Neeraj Kumar Pande | in Guest Column
Author: Neeraj Kumar Pandey
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