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Modi Talks About ‘Plastic Cows’ But His Government is Yet to Act

“More cows die due to plastic, not slaughter”, says Modi. But his government is doing nothing to ban it. 

Updated
India
4 min read
(Photo: <b>The Quint</b>)

India’s ‘plastic cows’ were largely ignored in the political onslaught which followed Modi’s attack on self-styled cow policemen. “More cows have died from consuming plastic than from slaughter”, the Prime Minister said during an Obama-style town hall on 2 August.

This was the first time that a political leader of his stature spoke about the dangers plastic waste poses to stray cows. But it was the Supreme Court which acted first on a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by the Karuna Society and four others litigants, including animal rights activist and writer Rukmini Sekhar.

Seven tannery workers were publicly flogged for skinning a dead cow in Modi’s home state Gujarat. (Photo: ANI screengrab/ Altered by <b>The Quint</b>)
Seven tannery workers were publicly flogged for skinning a dead cow in Modi’s home state Gujarat. (Photo: ANI screengrab/ Altered by The Quint)
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The Plastic Cow Project

The PIL followed the death of a stray cow which was among 36 others received by the NGO for permanent custody. The postmortem revealed 52 kg plastic in the animal’s rumen. The plastic fills up the rumen, does not pass through the reticulum and blocks food from reaching the stomach. The cow dies a slow, painful death from starvation.

The PIL mentioned that the ‘plastic cow’ problem “represents an icon or all animals exposed to the human garbage system” and sought a ban on the use, sale and manufacture of plastic bags. The PIL also demanded a time-bound plan to phase out open garbage disposal systems, removal of open garbage receptacles and segregation of plastic waste from other waste.

On 7 May 2014, the Supreme Court observed, “Unless we examine a total ban on plastic bags or put in place a system for manufacturers mandating them to collect back all plastic bags, the next generation will be threatened with something more serious than the atom bomb.”

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Stray cows feed on open garbage receptacles and ingest plastic which kills them slowly and  painfully. (Photo: iStockphoto)
Stray cows feed on open garbage receptacles and ingest plastic which kills them slowly and painfully. (Photo: iStockphoto)
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The Fight Against ‘Plastic Cows’ Precedes Modi’s Statement

“Suddenly the issue of our cows dying of plastic bags made news just because the Prime Minister mentioned it in whatever context. But why hasn’t the government made any moves to implement the plastic ban which many courts have ordered? With a snap of his fingers the PM can make India plastic-bag free, but I guess the politics of plastic bags does not polarize and divide people to get votes”, Rukimini told The Quint.

Mr. Modi has made a passing mention of cows and plastic bags. But the people of India have long recognized that plastic bags are choking every life form – on land and water. The whole cow protection issue is nonsensical rhetoric, because, in reality, cows have been reduced to scavenging in dustbins. We all have just one question for the PM – what will you do to rid India of plastic bags and save animals and the environment?
Rukmini Sekhar, Animal Rights Activist
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Overfilled open garbage receptacles add to the problem. (Photo: PTI)
Overfilled open garbage receptacles add to the problem. (Photo: PTI)
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All Talk, No Action

In July 2016, the Supreme Court, in its final hearing of the Karuna Society PIL, directed the Centre and State governments to “constitute committees consisting of competent persons who have got sufficient knowledge on the subject matter”. It also directed the regional National Green Tribunal (NGT) benches to monitor and regulate the cases at the local level.

The Centre, along with any of the state governments are yet to ban plastic bags. Nothing has been done to phase out the open garbage disposal system and to remove open garbage receptacles.

People actually welcome plastic bags because they can put their household waste in it and throw it in the open garbage bins. Along with banning plastics, the government should direct all municipalities to completely re-organize the solid waste disposal system. Garbage should go from bin to bin with no plastic bag intervention.
Rukimini Sekhar, Animal Rights Activist

Incidentally, prior to this Supreme Court order, in March 2016, the Ministry of Environment and Forests banned plastic carry bags with a thickness of under 50 microns, to be implemented within six months. That deadline will lapse in September. But a visit to your nearby grocery store or vegetable vendor would tell you there is zero awareness about the ban and no effort to implement it.

The holy cow has been reduced to a scavenger, living off human waste and the government which claims to champion its cause, has done precious little to rescue it.

(Sources: PIB, Karuna Society)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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