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Maharashtra bans plastic bags

By Ramola Talwar Badam in Mumbai
August 24, 2005 22:33 IST
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The Maharashtra government on Wednesday banned manufacture, sale and use of all plastic bags, saying they choked drainage systems during recent monsoon rains.

Environmental groups welcomed the ban, but said it wasn't enough. Plastic manufacturers said 100,000 people would lose their jobs.

Manufacturers and stores selling plastic bags will be fined Rs 5,000, while individuals using bags face penalties of Rs 1,000, Chief Minster Vilasrao Deshmukh said.

Deshmukh said the ban was prompted by the indiscriminate use of plastic bags, which blocked sewage and drainage systems during record monsoon rains in July. Flooding and landslides killed more than 1,000 people in the state.

The ban will come into effect on September 24. Until then, people can file objections and suggestions, Deshmukh said.

Other Indian states have already banned the use of thin plastic bags-- 20 microns or .002 centimeters thick-- used by shoppers.

Last month, some prominent Bombay residents, including movie producers, sued the state government for responding slowly to the crisis created by record rains last month that paralysed India's financial and entertainment capital.

Residents blame haphazard planning, bad drainage and poor roads for the flooding and landslides.

"The ban is long overdue and very welcome," said Debi Goenka, an environmentalist with the Bombay Environmental Action Group. Bombay is the capital of Maharashtra state.

"But to say the flooding was just because of plastic bags is stupid," Goenka said. "This has to be a first step." Environmental groups have demanded preservation of open spaces and regular cleaning of drains and garbage.

Arvind Mehta, managing committee member of the All India Plastic Manufacturers Association, said more than 1,000 manufacturing plants would be forced to shut down in the state, putting 100,000 people out of work.

"The government is passing the buck. We are being made scapegoats," Mehta said. "The waste management system and people's littering habits should be corrected."

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Ramola Talwar Badam in Mumbai