Govt rebuffs officer over plastic packaging

The government has rebuffed a senior law officer by contradicting him on his stand in the Supreme Court. He had granted an exemption to a Gutkha-manufacturing company, allowing it to use plastic for packaging its products for export purposes.

The Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) has claimed that his statement was “not as per the factual position”.

Additional Solicitor General P P Malhotra, however, made the statement “on instructions” before a bench of justices G S Singhvi (since retired) and V Gopala Gowda on September 3 last year. Baba Global Ltd, a company engaged in making pan masala, gutkha and tobacco, was exempted from the Plastic Wastes (Management and Handling) Rules, 2011. The law officer’s statement came after the company undertook that if it was granted exemption under the rules, it would not sell its produce in plastic packaging in India and such products would be meant for export only.

There is a ban on use of plastic in any form in packaging gutkha and other related products.

Malhotra had earlier faced a similar awkward situation when the Union Home Ministry replaced him from arguing in the gay sex rights case before the apex court, after he opposed a Delhi High Court judgment on the issue.

In an order, the apex court on December 7, 2010, restrained manufacturers of gutkha, pan masala and tobacco from using plastic material in the sachets. The direction was ordered to be implemented from March 1, 2011.

Subsequently, the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) notified the Plastic Waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 2011, on February 4, 2011, banning the use of plastic material in sachets for storing, packing or selling gutkha, pan masala and tobacco.

The rules were further amended three months later to ban the use of plastic material in any form in any packet of gutkha, pan masala and tobacco.

Now, in an affidavit, the ministry realised the faux pas and has taken a different stand.

“The ministry cannot grant exemption…as there is no provision in the rules, the ministry is not empowered to grant exemption from statutory provisions,” it said, adding that rules have already been laid down in Parliament after publication in gazette. It also said the ministry is in the process of filing an application for modification of the order in the Baba Global Ltd’s case.

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