From checking your litter box to our letter box

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[In the August 2016 issue of Packaging South Asia, we first published Deepak Manchanda’s Open Letter to the PM, Check your litter box! It has since been republished both in print and on the web and the Open Letter to the PM was also sent out as the first column in the Sunday Design and Marketing web newsletter series on 31 March 2019. – https://bit.ly/2CJw0mc]. We have received a response that we reproduce below. – Editor

To the editor –

I read Deepak Manchanda’s very nice open letter to the PM. The issues raised by Manchanda-ji and the suggested acronyms and processes are absolutely great. I have always said and felt that the governments are not doing their job well and penalising the common man for it.

There are more things to the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan – PACE if you like. The list would be topped by municipal failure in my opinion. This is a major area about which no one wants to talk or pay attention to. The cleaning and scavenging staff, the Safai Karmachari, is hardly visible today and perhaps the least visible of all public works services staffs. I remember that even as late as the close of 1960s, we saw the roads being swept and open drains being cleaned on a daily basis. Later, we saw a decline

– the sweepers began to vanish from the scene, and the muck removed from the drains began to be left by the drains in little piles, where it would dry in sun and get blown in the wind, to be redistributed, breathed in and ingested by hapless populations.

In my opinion, it is one of the minimum responsibilities of the municipalities to provide safe drinking water to the citizens. In the 1970s we all drank from the taps. By late 1980s, packaged drinking water was everywhere and the quality of tap water had become un t for human consumption in many places. This was demonstrated

in a damning survey conducted at railway stations in the central and eastern UP. Over a large area the water was found to be unsafe, while this was also common knowledge.

The bottled water industry and the water bottle industry proliferated because of this single major municipal failure. RO systems of all kinds became a necessity in every household and restaurant. If this was the then government’s intention to raise these industries and provide employment through this perversion, it is a different matter. Even today you nd packaged water bottle on the dais and everywhere in government functions also pathetically revealing the inadequacy of the system to provide safe drinking water on tap to the nation.

NGT and the government continue to promulgate rules to punish citizens for using the ubiquitous bag and other plastic products. Bigger fines mean more graft on the road and more harassment of poor householders. Consider the plight of a woman who toils at a construction site in scorching heat or pouring rain, in sub-human conditions as a hod-carrier and picks up some green vegetables for her family on her way home in a plastic bag as that is all she has. She may get accosted by a policeman and intimidated to cough up an amount that she may be earning in a whole week or more. Bottles would not be seen around if there was safe water on tap as well.

The question I am asking is – Are the governments, NGT and Judiciary interested in just passing orders that may be unenforceable in the existing system, and worse, which may lead to coercion and harassment of common man while fostering more corruption at certain levels or, do we want a responsible governance process that would first demand the governments to fulfil their municipal duties? If the roads are swept properly and regularly, much of the post-consumer waste would be collected by itself and the flying bags would be in the municipal system’s control to a huge extent. Banning everything is easy but we need solutions too. Linen bags are expensive. Paper bags leave a huge carbon footprint and have major adverse impact on the environment.

Does anyone want it? Do the governments and municipalities have no responsibility? Is everything the responsibility of someone else, most of all the common man? Do we want to do the impossible and not discuss the doable, the impossible being educating the masses? I will write on the segregation system’s utter failure even in the awarded clean cities at another time.

– Rakesh Shah

Rakesh ji has forcefully pointed out that packaging waste management needs to be primarily a shared responsibility among the municipal and other agencies appointed for the purpose. By introducing the idea of Extended Producer Responsibility in the Waste Management Rules, there appears to be an intent to shirk and shift that responsibility towards private agencies. I agree that at an administrative level we should aim to work towards what is collectively do-able instead of imposing orders that are un- implementable or ambiguous. Thank you for your timely comment.

– Deepak Manchanda