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Hometamil-nadu‘In public interest to enjoy a pollution free environment,’ SC upholds Tamil...

‘In public interest to enjoy a pollution free environment,’ SC upholds Tamil Nadu ban on reinforced paper cups

New Delhi: The Supreme Court has declined to interfere with a Madras High Court order, which upheld the ban on reinforced paper cups introduced in Tamil Nadu in 2019, holding that it was in the larger interest of the general public to enjoy a pollution free environment.

A bench of Justices S Ravindra Bhat and P S Narasimha did not see any reason to interfere with the high court’s finding on the ban of reinforced paper cups. They also directed Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) to consider the case of non-woven bags afresh, in light of the Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016.

The bench said the contention that the ban is over inclusive, and disproportionate, are not made out in relation to reinforced paper cups.

“The appellant’s right under Article 19(1)(g) has, without a doubt, been restricted; but in the larger interest of the general public to enjoy a pollution free environment the restriction was reasonable as per Article 19(6) of the Constitution of India, and is therefore, upheld,” the bench said in its decision passed on October 20.

The bench, however, said given that the amended 2016 Rules now allow non-woven bags above 60 GSM to be manufactured and used, ie, the Centre has found a way to regulate it, rather than ban it – there is some merit in the appellant’s contention regarding disproportionality.

“If a less onerous restriction on the appellant’s Article 19(6) right is possible, it must be favoured. In light of the developments in terms of the amendment to the 2016 Rules, this court is of the considered opinion that it would be appropriate, and just, to remand the question of including non-woven bags within the single use plastic products ban, back to the TNPCB for consideration,” the bench said.

The bench said the case of the non-woven bag stood on a slightly different footing and these bags were reusable in nature to some extent.

Also, their composition/proportion of polypropylene and filler used, in the manufacture of these bags, is customisable, the court noted.

Tamil Nadu government counsel claimed that despite being said to be reusable to an extent, they are indiscriminately disposed of and cause littering, which damages ground water, soil quality, etc, because they do not biodegrade properly, making it justifiable to ban.

“Unlike reinforced paper cups, these bags are reusable, recyclable, and capable of some level of biodegradation (based on the composition), but no committee was constituted to looked into it more closely, and it was in fact brought within the scope of the ban subsequently by way of clarification; the ban of this product perhaps deserves further scrutiny,” the bench said.

The association contended that the state government should have taken into consideration the fact that Centre had on December 13, 2018, constituted an expert committee to define ‘single use plastics’ in view of the conflicting decisions by various state governments on ban of such products. It further said that the decision of the steering committee to proceed without waiting for the Union government’s report is arbitrary and prejudicial.

“Though not applicable to the present lis, it is appropriate to note the amendments that have been made to the central Rules, since. The committee constituted by the Union Government, resulted in the Expert Committee Report on Single Use Plastics dated September 19, 2019 (which led to further amendments in the 2016 Rules),” the bench said.

The Report submitted by IIT (on the basis of which, the ban was first imposed) stated that consumption of reinforced paper cups would be deleterious to the environment as it would lead to cutting of more trees, and the recycling of which will cause more pollution.

It also recommended alternatives such as leaf products, kora grass, products made of coconut, screw pine, earthen products, steel products, etc.

The bench said the court cannot be oblivious of the fact that the state notified the rules on June 25, 2018 and did not bring it into force immediately and the ban was made effective, only from January 1, 2019.

“The petitioners and other parties were afforded the opportunity to represent and make their views known, which they did. Undoubtedly, the state did not accept those views,” the bench said.

(Published 21 October 2023, 15:53 IST)

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