Shimla: Phasing out plastic carry bags for a decade has marginally helped to contain urban litter but tourists unmindful of the sensitive environment continue to dump behind waste, so much so that a hydropower project on Beas River, more than once, had to be shut down because plastic waste had clogged one of the intakes.
Speaking at an environment awareness workshop on Sunday chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal said, “upstream of Largi hydropower project are the towns of Kullu and Manali. The amount of plastic waste that comes down from these tourist towns has even forced a shutdown of this 126 MW power plant on Beas River.”
DR Sharma, who manages the power plant says, “because of incessant rains, last year, most of the waste along feeding streams, which included empty cold drink – water bottles and other plastics, were flushed into the main river and ended up clogging the cooling water channel of the plant.”
A mesh had to be installed to filter the water intake and pre-empt unscheduled shutdowns that resulted in heavy losses. Project engineers are said to have unclogged about 6000 tons of plastics to keep the plant operational.
“Mainly because of deficient rains, lesser plastic ended up in the plant mesh trap this year, said Sharma.
Expressing his concern, minister for environment JP Nadda says, “penalizing policies only remain effective till implementation is monitored but unless sensitivities about environment concerns are not aroused, it fails to become an inherent norm.”
Urban litter and choking of drainage systems both natural as well those laid out to channel flows had made lawmakers pass a law to ban use of recycled plastics in 1996, which was enforced in 1999.
Nadda says that small step taken to protect mountain ecology in Himachal spread the message across the country and many states have followed suit, mainly to protect urban drainage infrastructure that is threatened by plastics waste.
Moving beyond recycled plastics, the government earlier in the month banned use of all kinds of plastics for carry bag purposes.
“That may serve little purpose,” says Shivani Mahlotra, an environmentalist who runs awareness campaign out of Dharamshala. “The major problem is the plastic being pushed into the market by the beverage and food processing industry. Without a proper disposal system in place, most of it ends up in drainage channels, clogging even power plants,” she said.
With a 40,000 hotel bed capacity, Manali remains one of the most popular hill destinations with both domestic and international tourists.
Despite an environmental cess collected from all vehicles entering the town that does not even have a proper municipality, much of the daily waste disposal ends up in the Beas River.