“Bhai saab, ek panni mein daal dena?. How many times have we said this to vegetable vendors or grocery shopkeepers? Do we realise what incalculable harm we do to the environment when we casually use a panni? Plastic bags kill the little organisms that live in nature, weaken the fertility of the soil, damage the drainage systems of cities and, most importantly, harm the future of our children. If the people were aware of their dangerous side, then they surely would have stopped asking for pannis and carried their own thailas when they went shopping. Today, billions and billions of discarded plastic pannis are floating about in the wind, moving from cities to villages and hurting agricultural productivity. Farm animals, including our revered Gomata, are dying by unconsciously ingesting them. If they are not floating about, then they are doing equal harm by blocking drains, choking sewage systems and destroying green belts in cities.
All over the world, governments are taking firm steps against the use of plastic bags. They are banned in many cities, whereas in others people are fined for using them. In some cities in India, like Shimla and Dehradun, shopkeepers are told to refuse sales to people who don'tbring their own thailas with them. The Prime Minister of Britain Gordon Brown has vowed to make London ?plastic free? by the end of 2008. In the US, many cities have made plastic bags very expensive by imposing taxes on them. In Russia, shops give plastic bags but only if the consumer is willing to pay 10 Roubles for each panni. More and more countries all over the world are banning plastic bag use. Though plastics play many positive roles in our lives, their manifestation as bags is a harmful one. People are forced by their governments to use bags made of cotton, jute, hemp, etc.
Sadly, the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi refuses to act against plastic use. What is most disgusting is that pannis are considered ?free? in the Indian capital. Actually, they are very expensive on the environment. Poor vegetable and fruit rehriwallahs have to spend between Rs 75 to Rs 100 per day to satisfy consumers. This perpetuates their poverty and keeps prices up. The Delhi Government is least bothered by all this. In fact, it does not even want to implement the two existing laws, the Non-Biodegradable Garbage (Control) Act, 2000 and the Delhi Plastic Bag (Manufacture, Sale and Usage) Act, 2001, under which it is illegal to manufacture and distribute plastic pannis in Delhi. When Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit is asked for the reason behind her lack of interest in making Delhi plastic-free, she says, ?I am encouraging people through advertisements to use jute and cotton bags?. This means that the Congress government'scommitment to saving the environment is limited to wasting public money on costly advertisements.
Dr Harsh Vardhan'sbold step
Former Health Minister of Delhi Dr Harsh Vardhan who organised the first-ever pulse polio campaign in the country and motivated more than 2 lakh school children to act as ?Polio Sena? and these children went from door to door motivating mothers to bring their infants to pulse polio booths for two drops of vaccine has now taken up the green campaign. After meeting with resounding success in Delhi, he went from state to state motivating Health Ministers to begin pulse polio campaigns in their own states. RSS volunteers played an active role in popularising pulse polio campaign. This was acknowledged in writing by the World Health Organisation.
Now, after 15 years, Dr Harsh Vardhan, has taken up a new mission. He is seriously concerned about what he dubs ?plastic terrorism?. In fact, being a scientific person, Dr Harsh Vardhan has plans to involve himself deeply in environment issues. In August 2007, he co-founded the ?Green Forum?, a platform of leaders drawn from all sections of society to campaign on environment protection. The Forum'sconvenor is Udayan Namboodiri, author and journalist, whose work to expose the horrors committed by the communists of West Bengal is well known. Says Dr Harsh Vardhan: ?I was deeply moved by the appeals of the United Nations to governments to take steps to prevent global warming and save the planet from sure extinction. I think political leaders in democracies should get involved in saving the planet.?
When Dr Harsh Vardhan read the Delhi Development Report-2006, published by the Delhi Government in 2007, he was shocked. On every page, the government'sfailure to save the environment of Delhi was apparent. On page 49 it was written that more than 300 tonnes of plastic waste is generated in Delhi each day. It is well known that plastic is non-biodegradable. For day after day, year after year, this plastic is piling up. The end result would be total destruction of bio-systems that nourish life. Plastic is made from petroleum. It does not go back to earth like cotton or jute. Rather, it stays where you discarded it for at least 10 lakh years. And all life in and around it is killed.
?I have decided to make the jute bag the symbol of my struggle to save the environment of Delhi in general and encourage alternative bags in particular,? Dr Harsh Vardhan said. Being a doctor, it is only natural for him to feel concerned about the health of not only human beings but animals as well. So, he and Udayan Namboodiri planned out a detailed programme to spread not only mass awareness against panni use, but also put forward real alternatives to the people.
?We realised that most people are shy of going around with unattractive thilas. So it was decided to provide people with bio-degradable bags which are not only beautiful to look at, but also inexpensive,? Dr Harsh Vardhan said.
?The communists say the poor must unite to organise strikes and block production. But we say, the poor must unite to work in and more organised way making best use of modern communication systems and find markets. The communists want the poor to stay poor, but we want the poor to be liberated from poverty. We also want the war against poverty and the war against global warming to become one big war,? he added.
Thus, the ?Green Shopper? or paryavaran ka adar karnewala upabhokta movement was born. Dr Harsh Vardhan said: ?I want to tell people to go back to the old way of shopping. Not to take pannis but bring home their necessities in jute bags. Each jute bag will become a family'sweapon against global warming?.
On June 3, the Green Shopper campaign was formally inaugurated at the Constitution Club lawns of Delhi by the Lieutenant Governor Shri Tejendra Khanna. Also present were the Archbishop of Delhi Vincent Concessao, president of Dastari Haat Samiti, Smt Jaya Jaitly, Shri Namboodiri and Father Sebastian. Hundreds of women and children from the Jehangirpuri and Mukundpur areas participated. They were freely distributed colourful jute bags, each with the message ?Say No to Plastic Bags?. They are made of the best quality jute and are priced at Rs 30 only. Each thaila is expected to last at least six months. ?By using such a thaila, a family will avoid using at least 300 pannis over a six-month period. That'sa lot of less plastic in the environment,? Dr Harsh Vardhan pointed out.
Now, Dr Harsh Vardhan has decided to take the movement to all nooks and corners of Delhi. He is shortly to collaborate with Resident Welfare Associations to distribute these bags all over Delhi.
The environment is central to Dr Harsh Vardhan'spolitics. Poverty is not only the cause of environment abuse, but also the reason. ?I am in politics to help the poor come up in life. The pulse polio mission has helped millions of poor people live healthy lives. Now, I wish to take the anti-plastic movement to a national level,? he added.