• Publish Date: Jul 15 2019 4:37AM
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  • Updated Date: Jul 15 2019 4:47AM

On a chilly winter afternoon this year, when Zubair Ahmad Shah was packing dates in a disposable plastic box for a customer at his shop in old Srinagar city’s Maharaj Gunj market, he was met with an uneasy gesture from a foreigner. “Please don’t pack them in this material. I have my own bag,” the man from Italy said. It was a first for Zubair, whose clientele consists of mostly local people, that a customer had asked him not to pack the merchandise in plastic or disposable bags.

“I told him that I won’t charge much sensing his uneasiness. However, there was something else. His concern was that it pollutes the environment,” recalls Zubair at his shop at Maharaj Gunj emanating aroma of spices.

Two months later, the government banned non-biodegradable material in the state. In its order issued on 26 March, the government said, “SRO 231: In exercise of the powers conferred by sub section 3 of section 7 of the Jammu and Kashmir Non-Biodegradable material (management, handling and disposal) Act, 2007, the Government of Jammu and Kashmir, after consultation with the prescribed authority (State Pollution Control Board) hereby bans completely the following articles made up non-biodegradable material listed in schedule 1 of the said Act, with the territorial jurisdiction of the state of Jammu and Kashmir namely: Disposable plates, Disposable cups, bowls and tumblers and Disposable spoons, forks and knives (sic).”

In another order, the government said, “Keeping in view the adverse impact on health and in order to avoid environmental hazards, it is hereby order henceforth: i) All government boards, offices, corporations/autonomous bodies/university units in the state of Jammu and Kashmir shall dispense with the use of single use plastic water bottles in their respective offices and make alternative arrangements for safe drinking water that does not generate plastic waste, and ii) Only multi use water bottles/dispensers/containers will be allowed in government offices, instead water bottles of alternative materials glass, steel, aluminium etc may be used.”

“The aim was to set a precedent before applying it in public domain,” said Regional Director Pollution Control Board, Rafi Ahmad Bhat.

However, impact of the ban couldn’t be measured since the marriage season had not started. These days, when marriages are taking place often, Kashmiris, while relishing wazwan, are continuing to make their soil ill with heaps of disposables, which have also seen a spike alongside seven course wazwan dishes to innumerable dishes in the past two decades.

According to Nazir Ahmad Shah, President of traders’ body at Maharaj Gunj, a market hub of disposable goods and from where the products are also supplied to different parts of Kashmir, the disposables market is worth more than Rs 50 crore in Kashmir at present.

In this wedding season, it seems the season of despair has dawned on shoppers at Maharaj Gunj dealing with disposables. Though, they wholeheartedly support government’s move of banning non-biodegradable disposables, their only concern is their stocks that they had ordered before the decree banning disposables in the state was issued by the government.

This also worries Mir Syed Nisar Ahmad Bazaz, a shopkeeper dealing with disposables from nearly three decades now.

“The ban is a welcome step. The only thing is we should have been taken on board. We should have been intimated much earlier to not purchase the stock for this season. It was done in haste. We would have also helped the government by bringing in biodegradable disposables into the market,” said Bazaz, who is among the many dealers who have already stocked disposables for the season.

Similar views were echoed by Shah. As per him, there are many unemployed youth who are part of the disposable business and government should come up with a policy that would accommodate their aspirations, while ecology is also maintained.

“We are ready to switch over to biodegradable products. We want our land to be pollution free. There shouldn’t be any compromise on it. However, there are youth who have taken loans from banks and ventured into this sector. At least there should some policy which would also not make us people bankrupt,” said Shah, head of traders’ body at Shar-e-Khaas.

At afternoon there is buzz at Maharaj Gunj. The customers seem unaware about the ban. Some who know about it describe their “helplessness” to purchase disposables in view of “no other available alternative” to them. There are customer like Showkat Hussain Sofi, who term the government’s ban as a mere “eyewash” and “ridiculous”.

A junior engineer in PHE department, Sofi, who has come to buy merchandise and disposables for a ceremony at his home feels instead of cracking whip against the small time dealers and shoppers dealing in disposables, government should curb the flow of disposable materials as well as polythene at Lakhanpur—an entry point into Jammu and Kashmir.

“It makes no sense to spend huge resources to check pollution causing agents on vast land of state, when you can stop it at Lakhanpur only,” said Sofi.

Shah also sees ban as “selective”. “We are seeing how packaged milk which we procure on daily basis comes in also hazardous material. Why something it is not done over it? We are not against ban but it should be against lower business strata only,” said Shah.

However, officials at PCB dismiss accusations, saying they are the only executing agency without any prejudice or favour to save Kashmir’s fragile environs.

Regional Director PCB, Bhat said for the first time in the history of Kashmir industrial unit was raided at Khanmoh, from where 78 kilograms of disposable material was seized. Besides, he said the department is also tightening its noose over the violators.

“We are conducting awareness programmes. People have to understand that it (non-biodegradable disposable products) are like an unlicensed gun in your pocket. It is in the transition phase and in the best interests of community,” said Bhat.

Bhat also agrees that it is at Lakhanpur that entry of hazardous disposable products and polythene could be brought to a halt.

However, officials at PCB fail to explain why these products, including polythene, still find a way into the state.

“Two operations were carried out in Jammu. One and a half months back our anti-polythene squad seized 10,000 kilograms of polythene. Besides, we also seized around 1200 kilograms of polythene,” said Bhat to elucidate his point.

In Kashmir, where customs mark every occasion and where society also tries to not lag behind in adding more customs, every time the onus lies on executing agencies to put a check on “hazardous waste” that had made its environs ill.

“When a trend, which can be started and gets social acceptance, it can be stopped also. It (non-biodegradable disposables) are not something without which we can’t do. The only thing is it can be stopped by government only while enforcing the ban strictly,” said Dr Aneesa Shafi, who is a professor of sociology at University of Kashmir.

Researcher and environmentalist, Shakeel Ahmad Romshoo also feels that it is high time for government to check the flow of phenolics (a chemical in non-biodegradable disposables and plastics) since it is making paradise’s elixir waters carcinogenic.

During his research last year on Dal waters, Romshoo said he found heavy metals in Dal waters which are a result of throwing of non-biodegradable waste into it.

“We may not be drinking Dal’s water. However, we are consumers of its vegetables including nadru and fish. That is where it is detrimental for us,” said Romshoo.

Dr Arshid Jehnagir, who teaches Environmental Science at Kashmir University, said that these non biodegradable disposables containing phenolics only “disintegrate”. “These phenolics react while something hot is poured into these disposables. Currently, research is going across the globe to carcinomic they can be,” said Jehangir.

Back at his Maharaj Gunj shop, Zubair is finding it hard to understand why this query was never put forth by his local clients. Perhaps, it is a question which is the difference between Italy’s Venice and Srinagar’s Nalamar.