India has been trying to make the ongoing national elections more environment-friendly by cutting down on the amount of single-use plastics.
However, the election campaigns have painted most roads with political colours, through the use of banners, mostly made of single-use plastics like the carcinogenic polyvinyl chloride (PVC).
Around 99% of these banners will end up in landfills, according to Sanjay Upadhyay, Supreme Court lawyer and managing partner of the Enviro Legal Defence Firm.
According to Upadhyay, this phenomenon began around the 2004 elections. Earlier, political parties would rely on cloth and paper banners.
The Central Government of India set 2022 as a target for banning all single-use plastic. Currently, India produces 15,342 tons of plastic waste daily, the Central Pollution Control Board found in 2018. Though many states have banned plastic bags and single-use plastics, implementation has been a challenge.
To address the issue, both the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) and the Election Commission of India (ECI) sent out advisories to states and Union Territories recommending that parties avoid these single-use PVC banners.
“All political parties should take adequate steps and measures not to use single-use plastic as campaign materials (posters, banners, etc.) during the elections in the interest of human health and environment,” the Election Commission’s letter said.
The Election Commission even included it as an advisory in its Model Code of Conduct, which is a set of guidelines parties are supposed to follow ahead of elections. But the gates of the Bharatiya Janata Party, Indian National Congress and Aam Aadmi Party headquarters in Delhi are covered with the faces of the party leaders in PVC banners.
“What happens in this country if there are merely advisories is that then it’s [considered] an optional thing,” says Upadhyay.
Upadhyay and his team filed a petition before the National Green Tribunal calling for a ban on the use of Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) in campaign hoardings, banners and flexes. Following the hearing, the National Green Tribunal instructed the Election Commission, the Centre and the Central Pollution Control Board to consider a ban on plastics, especially single-use plastics like PVC. The meeting has not taken place yet.
“The [NGT] bench was convinced that it’s an issue, but they didn’t want to out-rightly legislate,” Upadhyay says. “I’m hoping legal sense will prevail, that we don’t have to fight a legal battle, because this is a win-win for everyone, actually.”
So far, Kerala is the only state where election-related plastic has been banned by the High Court. Other states like Karnataka, Maharashtra, Himachal Pradesh, Telangana, and Sikkim already have some form of single-use plastic ban in place, but not all of the bans extend to electioneering. Some of the bans only focus on specific items like plastic carry bags, or plastic bottles and cutlery, which means plastic posters are not regulated under the bans.
(This story was first published on Mongabay)