Agra sustains effort to pull city out of polythene menace

By Brij Khandelwal, IANS,

Agra : When Agra’s municipal commissioner resolved to make the city polythene-free in October, few took him seriously. But just 40 days into the campaign, Vinay Shankar Pandey is garnering support from unsuspecting quarters – right from sweet-shop owners to vegetable vendors.

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The sewage-stricken Yamuna river and the polythene-choked drains had become an eye-sore. But a focussed action plan, which included the longest human chain for an eco-cause, galvanised citizens’ groups, NGOs, government servants and the 85-odd elected corporators to join in to make Agra somewhat worthy of its most beautiful monument – Taj Mahal.

The campaign, instead of fizzling out, is now beginning to show results, say social activists. Sweet-shop owners, vegetable vendors and even malls are discarding polythene bags and now switching to alternatives.

“More than 100 quintals of polythene bags have been donated by retailers to charity. Each day, teams of corporation workers confiscate polythene bags from markets,” Pandey told IANS.

The municipal corporation would start imposing the ban from Saturday – the first day of the New Year. First time offence would invite a fine of Rs.500 while a second offence could lead the way to behind bars.

“Action would be taken from Saturday. We have no intention of sparing anyone. If the polythene menace is contained, half the hygiene and cleanliness problems would be solved,” Pandey added.

However, some retailers are having a tough time convincing customers they need to carry their own bags.

“Old habits die hard. We keep telling our customers to bring their own bags, but instead of cooperating, they ask unnecessary questions and ignore the campaign,” says Rajesh of Vidhyarthi Stores on Motilal Nehru Road.

But the sweet shop at Paliwal Park crossing has switched to the traditional leaf ‘donas’ and clay ‘kulhars’. The famous Bhagat Halwai has stopped using polythene bags for packing.

Vegetable vendors are also reluctantly taking out the polythene bag.

“The mind-set seems to be changing. It’s good to have targeted the students who are more sensitive to environmental issues,” says social activist Sudhir Gupta.

Braj Mandal Heritage Conservation Society president Surendra Sharma says it’s going to be a long battle and “if the corporation gives up midway, then all the benefits accrued so far would be frittered away”.

There is a spin-off of the anti-polythene campaign – the price of paper bags has shot up steeply and even old newspapers are selling at Rs.8-10 per kg.

“If the campaign against polythene continues, we can expect it to spill over to the rural areas. Moreover, making paper bags could even provide a means of employment to the weaker sections,” said green activist Ravi Singh.

(Brij Khandelwal can be contacted at [email protected])