The Lok Sabha election is likely to be clean and green in Kerala, with the high court banning the use of all non-biodegradable materials, including polyvinyl chloride (PVC) flex boards for the election campaign. The Election Commission has also assured the court that it will ensure that political parties adhere to its directive.
The ban order has been issued by a bench of Chief Justice Hrishikesh Roy and AK Jayasankar Nambiar on a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by a Thiruvananthapuram native.
In his petition, BS Syam Kumar pointed out that the use of these materials violates "the Environmental Protection Act, 1986 as well as Plastic Waste Management Rules 2016, not to mention the violation of rights of citizens, under Articles 21 and 48A of the Constitution of India, for a clean and safe environment.’’ Hence, he pleaded for the ban.
Syam Kumar has in particular mentioned the PVC flex boards. "The use of such PVC flex boards is a key source of pollutants in the forthcoming election, by the political parties/candidates," he has said.
The petitioner has also drawn the attention of the court to the series of orders passed by Justice Devan Ramachandran of the high court on a bunch of petitions filed by individuals and organisations for the removal of PVC flex boards put up across the state by local authorities.
The Election Commission of India, which was the third respondent in the petition, informed the court that it had already asked all the national/regional parties "to make the forthcoming election eco-friendly and opt for the elimination of single-use plastic materials in the campaign.’’
The Commission also submitted to the court that it had issued the directive in pursuance of the request made to it by the Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change "to impress upon all concerned to take sustainable practices and try using the alternate option to single-use plastic during the election.’’
In its request to the Commission, the ministry had said, "A lot of the campaign materials including posters, cutouts, hoarding, banners and political advertisements, etc are made of plastic. After the election, the campaigning materials are discarded and become waste. Such single-use plastic waste generated during campaigning does not get collected and causes choking of drainage and river system, ingestion by stray animals, land and water pollution, open-air burning, etc, leading to adverse impacts on human health and environment. Some of these plastics are Poly Vinyl Chloride (PVC) based, which produces toxic emissions on burning.’’
Taking all these into consideration, the bench has ordered: "All candidates and the National/State Political Parties must strictly adhere to the guideline of the Election Commission, so that only the eco-friendly materials are used during the election campaign and there is no use of PVC flex boards and no other such non-biodegradable materials as campaign materials, in the State of Kerala."
State Chief Election Officer Teeka Ram Meena has swung into action to enforce the Election Commission’s green protocol backed by the high court.
Meena said that at the meeting of political parties called by him to discuss the election code of conduct, he told them that the materials banned by the court should not be used for campaigning. He warned strong action against those who would violate the protocol.
As follow-up action, he wrote to all the district collectors, who are district electoral officers, to deploy special squads in the field to monitor whether the political parties follow the court directive.
"On a single day operation alone, we have removed 31,000 flex boards, posters, flags and such other campaign materials made of the single-use plastic from Thrissur district and 8,000 materials form Ernakulam district. They have been handed over to local bodies and (Kerala) Suchitwa Mission for disposal. We are getting compliance reports daily form the district collectors. The public is also very watchful. They too feed us on the violation,’’ Meena, a no-nonsense IAS officer known for unbiased-implementation of laws, said.
"In the coming days, we will further strengthen the crackdown and reach even the farthest corners of the state,’’ Meena added.
Local self-governments in the state have to bear the brunt of the high court order because it will further add to their burden of disposing plastic waste. A Kerala Suchitwa Mission study estimates that presently, the state generates 480 tonnes of plastic waste daily.
Local self-governments are struggling to get rid of such a massive quantity of waste for want of proper systems. They are able to collect only a very small portion of it and that will be discarded at their waste dumping yards. While the amount of plastic waste is growing menacingly at all waste dumping yards in the state with the accumulation of daily feed, the uncollected portion is posing a grave threat to open spaces. In fact, all water bodies and land areas are carpeted with plastic waste, the secretary of a city corporation said on condition of anonymity.
"At present, the government-owned Clean Kerala Company is the only agency that collects the plastic waste from local bodies. The company sends the waste to a firm in Tamil Nadu for recycling. Some local bodies in association with Suchitwa Mission have set up plastic shredder units. Since they are able to handle only a very small quantity of the daily generated waste, these steps do not ease the menace,’’ he said.
Against this backdrop, he said, disposing of the plastic materials seized by the Election Commission, though a minuscule quantity compared to the daily generation, will further fuel the local bodies’ trouble.
Though this move will escalate their campaign cost, political parties and candidates believe that it is a very sensible move, especially when the state has been facing serious threat form the monstrously growing plastic waste.
"Plastic menace is a reality in Kerala and everybody should support the move to make the state free of it," said Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) president Mullappally Ramachandran.
Left parties too echo the view of the Congress. "It is a move to save our state and we should appreciate it," said CPI state president Kanam Rajendran.
Since the court order had come before the election was officially announced, candidates have not ordered campaign materials made of the court-banned single-use plastic. "We welcome the move. Luckily, it had come before the campaign was officially kicked off. We have decided to switch over to eco-friendly campaign materials like cloth and paper. It will push our cost up by 20-30 percent,’’ said Praveen, the campaign manager of Shashi Tharoor, Congress candidate in Thiruvananthapuram.
He is of the view that Kerala should follow suit of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, where relatively lesser money is spent for the campaign.
Congress leader and former MLA AA Shukoor, the campaign manager of a former union minister and Congress candidate in Mavelikara Kodikunnil Suresh, said that of the total election cost of a candidate, 40 percent goes in campaigning. But the present court order will further raise the campaign cost.
"We have decided to reduce the number of campaign materials made of costly eco-friendly things. So that we can confine our campaign cost at an advisable limit of 40 percent of the total election cost,’’ Shukoor said.
Political leaders confided that a candidate of a mainstream political party spends Rs 10-15 crore in Lok Sabha election in Kerala. "For cash-strapped Congress candidates, it would be impossible to shell out Rs 4–6 crore for campaign this time,’’ said a party leader.
But flex printers in the state claim that the flex materials contain only five percent PVC and materials containing more PVC are not banned in the state. They say that the court order is very unfortunate.
Jerry of Jerry Colour Printers, Kochi, said that eco-friendly flex materials cost double the amount of the plastic ones and printing clarity is also not good. He said that so far, no printers in the state have received orders from candidates.
But people in general have heaved a sigh of relief. They expect the order to bring a little relief to Kerala, which is chocked with non-biodegradable waste.
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Updated Date: Mar 23, 2019 19:14:24 IST