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It is most heartening, most consoling and most refreshing to learn that the Madhya Pradesh High Court just recently on February 26, 2020 in a latest, landmark and extremely laudable judgment titled 'Gaurav Pandey Vs Union of India and Others' in Writ Petition No. 17704/2018 (PIL) has taken serious note of the increasing ‘plastic pollution' which has a serious adverse impact on our environment due to which all of us are affected directly. It has not just taken serious note of the increasing ‘plastic pollution but has also commendably issued some important directives to the State to curb this menace! It would be in the fitness of things to mention here that it is high time and now urgent steps must be taken as directed by the Madhya Pradesh High Court to ensure that environment is protected and saved from further getting more polluted!

Needless to say, a two Judge Bench comprising of Justice Sheel Nagu and Justice Rajeev Kumar Shrivastava of Gwalior Bench of Madhya Pradesh High Court while disposing of a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by one Gaurav Pandey has directed the Government to issue directions to schools and colleges to stop use of plastic immediately and also to the industries to take immediate steps to stop the production and use of single use plastic. Not just the State Government but even the common man ought to do his/her best to check pollution and stop using plastic as directed by the Gwalior Bench of Madhya Pradesh High Court so rightly! There can be no denying or disputing it!

To start with, the ball is set rolling in this noteworthy judgment authored by Justice Rajeev Kumar Shrivastava for himself and Justice Sheel Nagu by first and foremost pointing out in para 1 that, 'This petition is preferred for public cause and has been treated as Public Interest Litigation, whereby public cause was raised to protect the environment from plastic carry bags.'

To be sure, it is then pointed out in para 2 that, 'The petitioner has sought relief of implementation of Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016 (hereinafter shall be referred to as the 'Rules of 2016') in whole of State of Madhya Pradesh and has also prayed that respondents be directed to implement notification bearing No.F5-2-2015-18-5 dated 29.05.2017 in its letter and spirit in the State of Madhya Pradesh and in terms of said notification, prayed to ban production, transport, storage, sale and use of plastic carry bags/polythene. Further relief sought is to initiate imposition of fine against the wrong doers.'

As it turned out, it is then disclosed in para 3 that, 'Respondent No. 4 - Municipal Corporation, Gwalior has submitted through its return that all possible steps are being taken by Municipal Corporation and Municipal Corporation is regularly seizing the carry bags from various fruit vendors, grocery shops, sweet shops and with the help of public they have spread message of ‘Swaccha Bharat'. In support of its version, the Municipal Corporation has produced photographs before this Court.'

For the sake of brevity, it must be said that while underscoring the importance of protecting environment, the Bench then goes on to observe most crucially in para 15 that, 'It is well said that if you want to survive for years together, you are required to protect the environment. Ecosystem is one of most important factor which protects the environment.'

No wonder, it is then further rightly added in para 16 that, 'In the light of above, banning of polythene/plastic bags has to be considered as a most significant moment of life. If any material which is generally used is not biodegradable then the whole ecosystem will be affected and indirectly will affect all living organisms of the world.'

Be it noted, it is then observed in para 18 that, 'Polythene is produced from ethylene, and although ethylene can be produced from renewable resources, it is mainly obtained from petroleum or natural gas. Moreover, the widespread usage of polyethylene poses difficulties for waste management if it is not recycled. Polyethylene, like other synthetic plastics, is not readily biodegradable, and thus accumulates in landfills and puts the life of human being as well as animals into danger.' Who can deny or dispute this? Certainly no one! Why then should adequate steps not be taken to check this menace of pollution which puts to stake the very survival of not just animals but also of human being?

To put things in perspective, it is then very rightly underscored in para 19 that, 'It is relevant to mention here that the problem raised in this PIL cannot be solved by punitive measures. Time has come to make the citizens/stakeholders aware of their duties and liabilities. This duty of every citizen is constitutionally provided in Article 51-A (g), which for ready reference and convenience is reproduced below:

'(g) to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wild life, and to have compassion for living creatures.'

The duty to ensure clean and unpolluted environment is as much of the State and its functionaries as it is of the citizen.'

What's more, the Bench then rightly calls upon in para 21 that, 'In such view of the matter, we are compelled to remind all the stakeholders as well as citizens to awake for the welfare of all living organisms of the world by assuming participative role to achieve the goal of elimination of plastic waste/polythene in terms of the provisions contained in Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016.'

Frankly speaking, the Bench then minces no words to say in simple and straight language in para 22 that, 'At this juncture, it is made clear that the responsibility cast upon each stakeholder is independent and requires honest involvement for eradication/elimination of plastic bags/polythene.'

Most remarkably, the Bench then in para 23 lays down clearly, categorically and convincingly that, 'Thus, this writ petition is hereby disposed of with the following suggestions/directions to the Citizens/Authorities/Print & Electronic Media as under:-

(A) Suggestions

(i) Citizens should be made aware of the causes and effect of plastic pollution and how to prevent it.

(ii) A campaign must be started to immediately stop using non-biodegradable plastic/polythene.

(iii) Citizens should not purchase single use plastic/polythene water bags etc.

(iv) Citizens should use cloth/jute made bags for carrying purchases.

(v) They may also themselves prepare paper bags from daily newspaper of their house.

(vi) Citizens should not embed any plastic/polythene waste in soil/land.

(vii) Citizens (parents/teachers) should teach children not to use plastic bottles/tiffins in schools/park/malls etc.

(viii) Citizens should cooperate in this task with different Authorities of the government.

(ix) Citizens should carry non-plastic water bottles/daily need articles, which are reusable for many years together.

(x) Similarly, it is expected of the Print & Electronic Media to propagate and install awareness amongst the citizens that use of non-biodegradable polythene/plastic has become a national problem. The Media should create an atmosphere in the society for non-use of non-biodegradable, polythene/plastic articles by publishing relevant topics regularly in the media and should also attempt to make the people aware regarding hazardous results of use of non-biodegradable plastic/polythene.

(xi) For awareness amongst the children, the subject of adverse effects of use of plastic/polythene and means to manage its waste should be incorporated in curriculum.

(B) Directions

(i) The State shall pass direction to Schools and Colleges to stop use of plastic immediately.

(ii) The State shall issue directions to the industries to take immediate steps to stop the production and use of single use plastic.

(iii) The State and its instrumentalities shall issue directives ensuring manufacturing and marketing of carry bags and packets made of non-plastic bio-degradable material on highly subsidized rates to be affordable to the common man.

(iv) For this purpose, the State shall encourage the small scale industry to manufacture and market such bags/packets by establishing necessary plants for this purpose in adequate number in all districts in the State of M.P.

(v) The State shall install adequate number of Water Dispensers in the city area to make available pure water to the citizens.

(vi) The State should install single use plastic bottles crushing machines in every possible public places in adequate number and on crushing particular numbers of such bottles, deposit return scheme may be started.

(vii) The State shall install Recycling Plants at various places.

(viii) The State shall use plastic/polythene waste for Thermal Electric Production Plant.'

Furthermore, the Bench then states in para 24 that, 'It is further directed that each stakeholder, as mentioned above, shall submit their independent progress reports through respective Collectors every three months before the Principal Registrar of this Court to ensure compliance of this order. As the order is passed in the interest of public at large, therefore, it is expected that the directions given by this Court shall be complied with in letter and spirit with utmost promptitude.'

To say the least, the Bench then holds in para 25 that, 'Principal Registrar of this Court is hereby directed to send copy of the order to all the responsible stakeholders for compliance.'

Finally, it is then held in the last para 26 that, 'In case of non-compliance or if the compliance is found to be deficient, the Principal Registrar is hereby directed to list this case before the Bench under caption ‘Direction'.'

In a nutshell, it may well be said that the Madhya Pradesh High Court has very rightly reiterated that plastic bags/polythene must be banned to effectively check and curb plastic pollution! It has also very rightly issued directions/suggestions for the same. No doubt, the crying need of the hour is to implement them in totality and for this to happen all the stakeholders must work in tandem and extend unstinted support and cooperation to each other to achieve the common aim of checking and curbing plastic pollution!

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