Election Commission, NGT, environment ministry say no to plastics in 2019 poll campaigning

Efforts are on for the first time to reduce the use of non-degradable materials during the upcoming general elections

By Richard Mahapatra
Published: Tuesday 12 March 2019

India’s parliamentary elections are an unparalleled democratic feat. So are its consumption of poll and campaign materials, and undoubtedly the use of non-degradable materials. But this year there seems to be an effort to reduce such materials, at least single-use plastics.

On March 10 when the Election Commission of India declared the dates for the Lok Sabha elections, the unusually lengthy press brief document had two paragraphs that dealt with “measures to prevent public nuisance”.

These public nuisances are the only two environment-related concerns the next elections will have to deal with, though not mandatorily. They are:

  1. avoid use of non-degradable, or single-use, plastics and other hazardous materials during campaigns and
  2. to adhere to noise pollution norms in the use of loudspeakers

The Election Commission directed all political parties, contesting candidates and their representatives towards the “usage of eco-friendly substances for preparing election campaign/publicity material —considering the long-term deleterious impact of materials such as plastics, polythene, etc. on the life-giving and life-sustaining environment”.

But developments preceding this announcement indicate that steps are finally being taken to reduce the use of non-biodegradable materials in the world’s biggest electoral exercise. India has already committed to do away with the use of single-use plastics by 2022.

On March 4, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) directed the Election Commission to take a decision on banning non-degradable materials, particularly single-use plastics in election campaigns. It even set a week-time to decide. It suggested that the Central Pollution Control Board be the nodal body for monitoring the use of such material.

Before this, the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) had also directed all states and Union Territories not to use single-use plastic for poll preparations. This direction — in a letter written by MoEFCC Secretary CK Mishra to all secretaries and state election commissioners — demanded banning of all types plastic carry bags, thermocol disposable cutlery and artificial flags and banners.

Sanjay Upadhyay, a lawyer who argued in the NGT, cited the Environment Protection Act, 1986 for the NGT to direct the Election Commission to stop use of such materials.

While the government of India is yet to take a call on banning biodegradable materials as directed by the NGT, on March 11 the Kerala High Court banned the use of flex and other non-biodegradable materials for campaigning throughout the state.

The verdict came after a public-interest petition, seeking prohibition of use of Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) flex boards and other ecologically harmful materials for the upcoming polls. During the hearing, the Election Commission of India informed the court that on February 26 it had already advised political parties to refrain from use of single-use plastics.

In the state elections in December last in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, similar advisories were issued. In fact the Election Commission of India evoked the Solid Waste Management Rules 2016 and Plastic Waste Management Rules 2016 for parties and authorities to adhere to.

Way back in January 2016, before the state elections in May, the Madras High Court ordered the Election Commission of India to frame plans to reduce uses of plastics in campaigns. The case is still being heard.

In this case, the petitioners quoted that each Assembly constituency would generate 10 tonne plastic during elections. There is no estimate of how much plastic and other non-degradable wastes are generated in Indian elections.

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