Article 48 of the Indian Constitution states the protection and improvement of environment and safeguarding of forests and wildlife and that” State shall endeavour to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country.”
Not a single day passes without an Indian not seeing the radiant face of his or her public leaders happily pleading to vote for them even after the elections. A country like India which is already bearing the name of having an immense number of polluted cities, cannot afford the wide use of plastic banners which can neither be reused nor recycled. After its use, there is no other option but to burn these which is detrimental to the environment and hence obviously hazardous to mankind.
These banners put up by the candidates are made of PVC or polyvinyl chloride which has been proven to release harmful cancerous gaseous pollutants inflicting grave health problems, once set on fire. Also, these gases being denser than air, leads to the reduction of oxygen content in the atmosphere. Our country generates nearly 26000 tonnes of plastic every day and banning these banners is a potential step towards curbing plastic usage. Several activists have raised the issue and the National Green Tribunal has banned the use of these banners but in no state can we see a conspicuous change in attitude.
As a result of the findings by the scientists, the National Green Tribunal, in the hearing of the petition by Mr. Ravikiran Singh of Andhra Pradesh, has ruled on December 22, 2016 directing the Election Commission of India to order the political parties to refrain from election campaign that involves the use of plastic banners, flags and flex, failure of which will lead to the imposition of heavy fine. The bench that considered the case was headed by Justice Swantanter Kumar. Following this, the state of Kerala has banned it and later similar orders were issued in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan. But visible changes were not seen anywhere much.
The National Green Tribunal, on November 8th, 2019 has ruled that the matter of prevention of use of PVC and chlorinated plastics which includes Banners/Hoarding used during the elections for campaigning and advertising has to be dealt by a Joint Committee comprising the representatives of the Election Commission, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) and the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB). The verdict stresses on the stringent monitoring of the same by these above-mentioned bodies. The NGT principal bench that considered the case was headed by Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel.
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The petition was filed by Mr W. Edwin Willson via his advocates Mr Sanjay Upadhyay and Mr Salik Shafique seeking corrective steps to prevent the use of PVC and chlorinated plastics citing the extent of endangerment that their use put the environment in. The petition also says that no reaction when a letter was sent to the MoEF&CC to give directions to all state governments and the Election Commission telling them to completely ban the use of these plastic banners.
QUESTION OF LAW
Last year on March 10, before the election, the Election Commission has cited two provisions with relation to the environment that is, avoid the use of non-degradable, or single-use, plastics and other hazardous materials during campaigns and to adhere to noise pollution norms in the use of loudspeakers based on the advice of NGT. The states are empowered to frame their methods of enforcement of the rule.
As a result, the Karnataka High Court has banned the use of banners as a follow-up order to the ban on plastics and the activities of flex printing units in the Bengaluru city were also ceased. Then, in August, the Government of Kerala has also banned PVC flex considering its effects on the environment followed by the state of Chhattisgarh which banned it in October 2019.
When it is appreciated that these states did ban the PVC boards, significant number of them can be seen, highlighting the ineffectiveness and ineptness in its execution, If there are any complaints in relation to the putting up of flexes and banners, then it can be brought to the notice of Election Commission who will add the expenses of it to the candidate’s election campaign expenses.
The Constitution has ensured that every state is responsible to conserve and improve the environment. Therefore, keeping in mind the advice provided by the bodies like the NGT, the states are obliged to guarantee the citizens a safe environment to live in. Also, the ban on the banners could be seen as a step towards a cleaner environment but it cannot be termed a long leap until it is properly carried out. This ban will also encourage researchers to dig out new alternatives to the use of plastic contributing to the general betterment of our surrounding.
Citizens and civil society have a huge role to play by making use of their civic sense to report the presence of banned banners to the concerned authorities. In every society, political parties have a crucial role to play. In this particular case, if political parties take a collective decision not to use strictly the health hazardous materials mentioned above for election campaign activities, it would be a great step forward for attaining the goal.