Thirteen days after the Maharashtra government introduced a ban on a range of plastic products including plastic carry bags, the ban is likely to fizzle out in Pune given the enforcement slowdown by the Pune municipal corporation (PMC).

The ban was effective in its initial days because of strict implementation by Pune municipal squads who went shop to shop, confiscated large quantities of banned plastic items and levied stiff fines of Rs 5,000 and Rs 10,000.

While there was some amount of resistance from shopkeepers, the citizenry at large was reciprocating by using cloth bags and shunning plastic carry bags. However, over the last few days, plastic carry bags and the packing of food in thin polythene bags by vendors has revived, with little action from the PMC.

Even civic officials acknowledged that the plastic ban could suffer the fate of the ‘Gutkha ban’ which is visible only on paper, even as Gutkha is easily available in the entire state.

Suresh Jagtap, head of PMC’s solid waste management department, said that while it is true that the PMC started the anti-plastic drive aggressively from June 23, the state government later modified its instructions and has relaxed the ban on the use of plastic as packaging material. “A final list of items that are banned and those that are allowed is expected in the next three months. The PMC has, therefore, decided to go slow on its drive. At the same time, we will ensure that plastic carry bags continue to be banned in the city,” Jagtap said.

On June 23, the first day of the plastic ban, PMC took action against 104 persons and collected fines amounting to Rs 5.59 lakh. The drive was conducted aggressively till June 27. However, with mounting protests from retailers, the state government allowed plastic for packing material. The amount of fines collected by the PMC’s enforcement squads daily also declined gradually, from Rs 2.42 lakh collected from 50 violators on June 25 to Rs 13,000 collected from three violators on July 5.

An official from the Maharashtra pollution control board (MPCB), who requested anonymity, also confirmed that the plastic ban was in the process of being revised. He blamed the political leadership for going soft on the ban even though the government administration had been successful in creating mass awareness about the ban and the implications of violating it.

A civic official, who requested anonymity, said that if the enforcement drive is relaxed by the PMC, it is certain that the ban will fail and all forms of banned plastic would be seen in the city.

Political observers have blamed the weakening of the plastic ban on acute differences between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Shiv Sena in the Maharashtra government. Introduced in the state by Sena minister Ramdas Kadam on the advice of senior leader Aditya Thackeray, the ban received a good response from the citizens and the administration. However, the BJP-led government went soft on the ban, political observers said, due to fierce opposition from retailers and traders, who are seen as BJP voters.

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