It was not so long ago that the government of Manipur with fanfare and a rather bloated sense of mission announced an end to single use plastics. This was a move appreciated by most in the state in the belief this was a giant step in the fight against environment degradation now beginning to be felt acutely in the state. It also understandably would have caused difficulties and losses to those who made a business out of manufacturing or else retailing these extremely convenient, cheap, waterproof, disposable and therefore very widely used bags, bottles and all forms of cutleries. Despite this, many believed it was a necessary sacrifice and if those who began their businesses involving these implements while they perfectly legitimate ended up hurt, it was unavoidable, and provided they were suitably compensated, or else given the means to switch to another enterprise, it was also fair. The government did push hard to live up this cause for a few months, unfortunately, as is the wont of governments here, with their primary focus on looking for means to earn more charity from their overlords in New Delhi, the initiative soon lost wind. Now the state is back to square one, and disposable single use plastic menace has returned. Nobody is even sure now if the government’s ban still exists or if official unconcern has allowed it to die prematurely.
Nobody will argue that the law when enforced consistently and uniformly is fair and necessary. But when this consistency or uniformity is missing, rather than ensure justice for everyone, it can amount to grave injustice for many. The example of the plastic ban and its short-lived enforcement is a loud example. What about those who were made to suffer or even lose their businesses because of the initial thrust and self-righteous fanfare claiming this was not just about saving Manipur but also of contributing the state’s mite towards the larger global fight for environmental conservation and therefore, prevention of climate change which is putting the future of humanity, and indeed life on earth itself, into peril. Now that single use plastics have returned as a no holds barred disposable everyday convenience as it always was, are those who suffered during the initial days of the push for its ban to be made to bear the cost alone?
The same can be said of the eviction drive of encroacher on government land, many of them holding legitimate documents thanks to corrupt revenue officials at practically every level who had no scruples according them the necessary documents obviously for a price. Those who bought these documents to give their encroached land a façade of legitimacy, did deserve to be evicted, for the law should be held above official whims and misdoings, but when this law is not enforced uniformly or consistently, even action taken in perfectly legal manner and done for the greater common good, can transform into discrimination and injustice. In this case too, what had seemed like a strong-willed administrative measure to make everybody, especially habitual law breakers, fear the law, has been rendered facile and discriminatory, now that it is discovered on an increasing frequency that even reclaimed land at Loktak lake are being still distributed as individual land holdings, again obviously for a price. Many of these land holders, it is reported, are people in public office or else with strong connections to them.
To this list may also be added the government’s fitful and periodic frenzied drive for ensuring traffic and parking norms in Imphal city. While they were on, many had to go through court proceedings to have their vehicles, confiscated for wrong parking, released. In many cases their vehicles also suffered damages because of bad handling. Again, these would have been seen as wrong doers getting the penalties they deserve, but only if these retributive measures were allowed to remain consistent and uniform. Today, things have relapsed to where they were, and everybody is doing what others were punished for without any cost or worry. The earlier lot who were once seen as law breakers getting what they deserved now appear more like victims than offenders.
This is very unfortunate, for all of the issues the law sought to tackle but failed are of utmost importance to the collective welfare of the state and beyond. Single use disposable plastics, apart from piling up as ugly garbage hillocks everywhere, are also virtually choking our cities, clogging our drainage systems, contaminating our wetlands and more. What should also worry everyone is, unlike most wastes, plastic is not biodegradable and according to scientists they would take at last 400 years to disintegrate. In other words, even if we completely stop producing plastic from today, every plastic bag or bottle we dispose now will contaminate the earth for at least 30 generations to follow. Hence, letting the caution on plastic lapse will ultimately amount to our silent compliance in nothing to prevent the poisoning of the ecosphere that sustains life. The same can be said of most of the other onerous responsibilities we forsake because of the failure to evolve a common norm or law and then enforcing them effectively and durably. The government, and indeed the people as a whole, should take note that good governance is not just about begging borrowing or stealing to increase resources, but more importantly it is about discharging our collective responsibility well to ensure our living atmosphere remains healthy and vibrant.
Editor, Imphal Review of Arts and Politics and author