The Madras High Court on Wednesday directed District Collectors across the State to initiate action against shops, commercial establishments, vendors and other traders using carry bags or containers made of recycled plastic for storing, carrying, disposing or packaging of food items.

A Division Bench comprising Justices R. Banumathi and S. Nagamuthu gave the directions while disposing of a public interest litigation petition taken up suo motu at the Madurai Bench on the basis of a newspaper report on dumping of plastic waste in public places.

The Bench also directed the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) to close down all plastic recycling units which had not obtained its consent under the Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981 and the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974.

The TNPCB was further ordered to monitor whether 1,132 plastic recycling units, which had obtained its consent under the Air Act and Water Act, were strictly following the specifications as laid down in the Recycled Plastics Manufacture and Usage Rules, 1999 as amended by the Centre in 2003.

The judges said that the TNPCB could also issue advertisements in the media and conduct awareness programmes in public places such as shopping malls, airports and railway stations to sensitise the people on the ill-effects of plastic and discourage them from using goods made out of hazardous materials.

Pointing out that the court was not empowered to issue a direction to the State government to enact legislation, the judges expressed hope that the government would on its own take expeditious measures to convert the Tamil Nadu Non-Biodegradable Garbage (Control) Bill, 2010 into an Act.

The judges pointed out that the TNPCB had drafted the latest Bill after the Tamil Nadu Throwaway Plastic Articles (Prohibition of Sale, Storage, Distribution and Transport) Bill, 2003 was not passed even after seven years and despite an order passed by the Principal Seat of the High Court in Chennai last year.

Writing the judgment, Ms. Justice Banumathi pointed out steps taken by New Delhi, Maharashtra, West Bengal and Orissa to ban plastic bags. “Even though other States marched ahead in protection of environment… in the State of Tamil Nadu as such there is no effective legislation to regulate the use of sale, sale and disposal of plastics,” she said.

The Bench, however, commended the initiatives taken by the Kanyakumari district administration for achieving the goal of ‘Plastic Free Kanyakumari District.' “We are informed that the public response in the district is very positive… Hence, it would be in order, if in all the districts, the Collectors take up initiatives on a par with those taken by the Kanyakumari Collector.”

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