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India 'not keen' on legally binding global treaty to reduce plastic production

By Rajiv Shah 

Even as offering lip-service to the United Nations Environment Agency (UNEA) for the need to curb plastic production, the Government of India appears reluctant in reducing the production of plastic. A senior participant at the UNEP’s fourth session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC-4), which took place in Ottawa in April last week, told a plastics pollution seminar that India, along with China and Russia, did not want any legally binding agreement for curbing plastic pollution.
The participant, Chiragh Bhimani, formerly a senior official of the Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB), while making his presentation at the Ahmedabad seminar, said, there were three broad scenarios that emerged at the INC-4 meet: The first was the most feeble, to allow all countries to find their own ways to curb plastic pollution. The second was to reach broad consensus agreement. And the third, most desirable, was that all countries agreeing to legally reduce plastic production, especially the varieties which cannot be reused.
Asked which one of these three scenarios India was likely to support, Bhimani told Conterview, “The first one...” According to him, India wants to keep its options open, even as agreeing to curb plastic pollution. “Whatever I could gather during the session (23 to 29 April 2024) was, India did not at any rate want any legally binding international treaty”, he underlined.
Bhimani appeared to confirm India’s top environment journal, “Down to Earth”, report on the INC-4 proceedings, which said, the Indian delegation “advocated” an approach that “enhances the longevity of plastic products through improved design”, including “repair, reuse, refill and recyclability”. It “urged” that decrease in plastic usage should “naturally result from improved product design.”
In fact, India opposed “any limitations on primary plastic polymers or virgin plastics, arguing that production reductions exceed the scope of the UNEA.” India stressed that the measures to curb plastic pollution should be “nationally determined, without the imposition of international design standards”, driven by policies “tailored to each country’s specific circumstances and capacities”, the report said.
The Ahmedabad seminar, organised by Gujarat-based environmental group, Paryavaran Mitra, saw speakers expressing concern at the failure of the state government to come up with a viable policy to curb plastic pollution. NGO convener Mahesh Pandya said, the state urban development department has a scheme which offers waste pickers Rs 3 per kg for collecting 10 kg volume of single use plastic. Called welfare scheme for waste pickers, they are to be paid only for 15 days in a month.
Sharply criticising the scheme, Pandya said, this would mean, the waste pickers get a mere Rs 30 per day, which is a very poor offer. “The 10 kg plastic is a huge bulk. They ought to be offered at least Rs 10 per kg”, he said, even as pointing out that the state government has identified just 1,000 waste pickers in Ahmedabad, which “quite an under-estimate”, considering city's population today of about 75 lakh, and “single-use plastic bags being widely used.”
Pandya said, many waste pickers are migrants and are Dalits, and they do not have any housing facilities. “While the Government of India has come up with the One Nation One Ration scheme, our interaction with the waste pickers in Vadodara, who have migrated from Banswara region of Rajasthan, suggests that they do not have access to the scheme, and their earnings are extremely poor”, he underlined.
Giving details of his participation at INC-4, Chiragh Bhimani said, a major focus of the meet was micro plastics found in marine life across the globe. Offering examples of micro plastics found in the fishes consumed in the countries along the Pacific coasts, in an answer to a Counterview query, he regretted that there is no such study on Gujarat, which accounts for 20% of India’s sea coast, and where fisheries is a major means of coastal livelihood for fisherfolk.
Expressing similar concern, Anindita Mehta, senior official  at the Consumer Education and Research Centre (CERC), Ahmedabad, and trustee, Consumers International, said, the only study that she has come across on marine pollution in India because of micro plastics is by the SRM College, Chennai, carried out along the Tamil Nadu sea coast. “There should be a study on Gujarat coastal region too”, she insisted.
Participating in the debate, a senior Gujarat Maritime Board (GMB) official, Atul Sharma, an environmental engineer, even as claiming that the Asia’s biggest ship breaking yard at Alang, situated along Saurashtra coast of Gujarat, has "no plastic pollution", regretted, the ships coming for dismantling are not cleansed of plastic.
Sharma said, “This is a major reason why we have had to construct dumping yards. It is not possible for us to refuse these ships from coming to Alang, lest we will lose business. The country of origin should take the responsibility of cleansing the ships of plastic before sending them to Alang. A representation should be made to Western countries in this regard...”
Speakers at the meet regretted that the “polluters pay” principle for plastic pollution – as reflected in the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) approach, which requires the producers to take back equal quantity of the plastic they produce – has not been put into effect in India. “EPR should be mandatory”, insisted Anindita Mehta.
Interestingly, none of the participants at the seminar touched upon how plastics were a major reason for the untimely death of large number of stray cows in Gujarat, a state where cow slaughter is banned. Even as speakers talked of "lack of awareness" about plastic pollution, the experts agreed they had "not heard" of a civil society movement in 2017 which revealed up to 10 kg of plastic found in cows' wombs on their death.


masaelis said…
Interesting that for Plastic Pollution the Govt proposes "policies tailored to each country’s specific circumstances and capacities”, but for WHO Health Treaty, not at all, completely, openly, dismissing our country’s specific health circumstances, capacities and NEEDS!!!!
james anderson said…
It's disheartening to see India resist a legally binding treaty to curb plastic production. National policies are essential, but global cooperation could significantly impact plastic pollution. Let’s hope for stronger commitments soon.
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