The proliferation of plastic wastes in the urban and village environments of Goa, and the abysmally hopeless and inadequate arrangements of municipalities and panchayat authorities for the disposal of this plastic litter, are subjects which many environment NGOs and citizens have expressed anguish over right from the inception of the Goa Environment Federation (GEF).
At the first GEF meeting in June 1998 the problem of plastic waste disposal was highlighted as a major environmental problem facing Goa by no less than five NGOs as well as several citizens in written submissions made before the Goa Environment Commission constituted by the GEF.
Thereafter, at every subsequent meeting, the issue came up for discussion. NGOs like Nirmal Vishwa—which have worked on the problem of plastic waste disposal for the past couple of years—explained the difficulties they faced in disposing of plastic wastes after they had organised collection drives in Ponda taluka. These drives—organised through schools and other educational institutions—received the cooperation of the public, but had not deterred the use of disposable plastic by the same citizens. Furthermore, the problem of what to do with the plastic garbage, once collected, remained unsolved.
When the GEF came to know that the Goa Bench of the Bombay High Court had taken up the problem of garbage disposal in the state of Goa in a suo moto writ petition, GEF thought it fit to actively support the court’s initiative. Four organisations filed intervenor applications: Nirmal Vishwa – Ponda; People’s Movement for Civic Action – Panjim; Goa Foundation – Mapusa; and Margao First – Margao.
A perusal of the affidavits filed by the municipalities and panchayats in the court proceedings revealed that none of these institutions had any schemes to deal with this problem. Neither had the government made any arrangements to take care of the collection and disposal of the increasing quantities of non-biodegradable garbage generated in the towns and villages of Goa.
Through the court proceedings the government was forced to consider the problem of plastic waste disposal as a separate category from general garbage. GEF brought to the notice of the Court that there were in fact two statutes directly relevant to the problem of plastic garbage disposal — The Goa Non-Biodegradable Garbage Disposal Act, 1996, which had come into force on 1st January 1998; and the Plastics Recycled, Manufacture and Usage Rules 1999 issued by the Ministry of Environment & Forests under the Environment Protection Act, 1986.
Although the Goa Act was in force from 1998, hardly any steps had been taken by the authorities to set up the mandatory garbage management committees which would study the local situation, prepare suitable action plans, and ensure their implementation. As far as the Plastics Rules 1999 were concerned, nothing whatsoever had been done for their implementation by the State. In fact, the authorities responsible for their implementation, namely, the State Pollution Control Board and the District Collectors remained unaware of their vital role in the enforcement of the said Rules.
It was during these proceedings that the State Government informed the Court that it had notified on 7-1-2000 a Committee to look into all aspects of solid waste management in the state of Goa, including the relevant laws, and to produce a comprehensive report within three months outlining a scheme of action and various measures to be taken by the different authorities to deal with the problem. People’s Movement for Civic Action was the NGO representative named on the Committee.
Regular meetings of the Committee during the next three months resulted in the finalisation of a report titled “Solid Waste Management in the State of Goa” (SWM Report) which was presented to the Court in April 2000. In July, the State Government informed the court that it had accepted the report and would immediately commence steps for its implementation.
As a first step, the State Government took a decision to enforce the ban on use of plastic bags below 20 microns from August 15, 2000. The government sought time till 31st December to complete the steps necessary for full implementation of other aspects of the SWM Report which included:
- a ban on the use of recycled plastic bags for food items;
- setting up of composting units to take care of biodegradable garbage;
- arranging for the disposal of non-biodegradable garbage to recycling plants outside the state;
- ensuring that Garbage Management Committees are set up in all panchayats and municipalities.
Taking a cue from the SWM Report and also with a view to strengthen the efforts of the government, GEF decided at its meeting held in Ponda in the mid-July to launch a plastic clean up programme for the entire state of Goa.
It was unanimously felt that the year 2001, the dawn of the new millennium, should find public places in Goa free from plastic litter, which presently not only disfigures market places, tourists spots, beaches, roads, parks & gardens but also litters the countryside, choking drains and nallahs, wherever the plastic accumulates. Through this campaign, GEF hoped to highlight the problem of plastic waste, so that both the government and the citizens become aware of its magnitude. At the same time, GEF wished to demonstrate its concern by working with the authorities to find ecologically acceptable solutions.