Professor was in anguish when we met at his office. He was taking a flight to New Delhi for a day long meeting with the PMO. The subject of the meeting was “introduction of various bans”. The PMO wanted to know what should be banned for the interest of environment and at the same time give a green millage to the PM in the forthcoming elections. Professor was asked to come with innovative ideas. And as usual, there wasn’t much time to think.
“Professor, we just banned all kinds of plastic in the State of Maharashtra. Plastic is now banned in 18 States of India. Why don’t you announce now a National Ban on Plastic on June 5 – the World Environment Day (WED). That announcement will look bold and impressive, sporting a spirit of coalition between the political parties. It will be as powerful as the demonetization where we banned the 500 Rs currency notes. By the way, you may know that Plastic pollution is the theme of this year’s WED.” I suggested.
“Good point Dr Modak, time has now come to announce a nation-wide ban on plastic”. Professor said – “But I am looking for new ideas. These ideas must be practical as well as robust – not like banning of the beef for instance or banning of alcohol sale in shops within 500 meters of the highways”
“OK, let me think” I said
“Remember, Dr Modak” Professor continued “Bans do provide some immediate benefits to their proponents over a short term. Although bans communicate the “right intentions”, they divide the general public into those who support and those who oppose the ban. This can lead to a political issue in addition to the fragmentation that both ruling party and opposition parties are trying to achieve on the basis of caste and religion. It can spoil the so-called number game”
Professor was right. In the short term, some of the bans do show positive results. In the initial months of prohibition in the US for instance, there was a 30% drop in alcohol consumption and decline in arrests for drunkenness. But later, the liquor trade moved underground. The underworld took over the “business” and got more and more organized. The liquor consumption levels went back to original score and new problems like spurious liquor, gang wars and sale of other narcotic substances emerged. So, on the long term, the liquor ban led to a worse situation.
I was surprised that Professor cited an example of US and not of the State of Gujarat.
Most bans generate psychological reactance. According to psychologist Jack Brehm, humans hate to lose any freedom. When people believe that their freedom has been threatened, they enter into a reactance motivational state and revolt against throttling of their freedom. In fact, the individuals get an increased motivation to indulge in the very behavior that is restricted. (Read article by Biju Dominic). A movie that is banned by the Board of Sensors is perhaps most watched. So, does banning really help?
During the reading of the 2009/2010 financial budget, Government of Uganda imposed a ban on importation of used computers with a view of combating the accumulation of electronic waste in the country. Whilst this was for good intention, there was a general outcry that this ban stifled economic activities. As a result, traders and other stakeholders vehemently resisted the ban and petitioned against it. There was need to review the ban on used computers because it lacked clear specifications of old, used, new, assembled, and refurbished computers. For example, a computer used for only two weeks was considered as used computer hence banned. Based on their petitions and other considerations Cabinet on 2nd November 2011 directed the Ministry of Finance Planning and Economic Development in consultation with the Ministry of ICT to review the importation of used computers. Need to spread the use of computers through provision of affordable computers was recognized. The study assessed the impact of the ban on importation of used computers in Uganda and used the outcomes and recommendations of the assignment to form a basis for reviewing and lifting of the ban.
Mining is one of the economic activities practiced in the small state of Goa apart from agriculture, tourism and fishing. Mining industry brought lucrative incomes, but it also comes with a lot of environmental hazards. The protests and agitation that took place against rampant mining operations owing to the Chinese boom in the last decade compelled the Supreme Court to order ban in September 2012. A study was carried out to assess the impact of this ban on the socio-economic characteristics of the households in the mining belt of Goa. The study revealed a change in the occupational structure and suggested the need to educate people about the nature of mining industry and thus a need to invest into alternate income avenues instead of entirely relying on the mining industry
Considering the alarming fall of groundwater levels in India, I told Professor to consider banning of pumps in the water stressed areas.
“Well, Dr Modak, this is a good suggestion but implementation of the “pump ban” is extremely difficult. The farmers In India are already agitated due to so many other issues. So, let the groundwater deplete for another 2 years till we are done with the forthcoming election– and in any case this is a problem that is mostly underground and not easily seen”
“Oh, you are quite right Professor, So it you are looking for some visibility. Then why don’t we ban vehicles in certain areas of our mega cities where air pollution is a serious issue?”
Germany’s highest administrative court recently ruled that vehicles can be banned from some city streets as part of efforts to improve air quality in urban areas, a decision that could have far-reaching consequences for the country’s automakers and the diesel technology developers.
“This is a good suggestion Dr Modak, Professor said “But deciding no-vehicle zones in a city is not going to be easy, How would you handle the parking issue as people will have to park vehicles near to the no-vehicle zone and then walk?”
I thought Professor was right. But I did not give up
“How about banning sale of diesel -powered vehicles altogether? In California such a ban will be effective from 2040 giving enough time to phase out. You could impose such a ban in Delhi’s NCR to start with say by 2020 as a promise during election”
Professor said that all the diesel vehicles in the NCR will then ply in UP, Haryana and Rajasthan transferring the emissions due to combustion of diesel.
“Dr Modak, what do you think of banning harmful products and substances – like cigarettes, asbestos and pesticides? These bans will help protecting the health of the people and environment of our country”
Did you know that in Canada, there is a Ban Asbestos Canada (BAC) group, a coalition of labor, public health, environmental and human rights consisting academic and scientific experts, concerned citizens, victims and their families? In December 2016, the federal government of Canada announced a comprehensive ban on asbestos and asbestos containing products by 2018”
Well Professor, you know how difficult it is to impose such bans in India. Firstly, you will lose a huge amount of tax revenue especially on cigarettes and pesticides. Further, reasons why we are banning such substances are so hard to communicate as the nexus between health, safety and environment is generally not understood by the Indian common citizens. I am aware that we don’t give any reason when we ban anything, neither people ask about the “science” behind banning but still ….”
Professor lit his cigar and looked outside the window. He could sense my discomfort.
I remembered the term Policy Impact Assessment (PIA). PIAs are performed in few countries when there is a proposition for changes in the policy frameworks especially if bans are to be introduced.
E-waste is growing up to three times faster than general municipal waste in Australia and covers a range of items we use and discard from our daily working and home lives, including televisions, computers, mobile phones, kitchen appliances and white goods. These items contain both hazardous materials, which can harm the environment and human health, and valuable materials which are scarce and worth recovering.
Today, the Victorian Government in Australia is seeking views from the community and industry on the proposed approach to managing ‘e-waste’ in Victoria. A package of proposed measures has been developed to reduce e-waste from landfill, increase resource recovery and support jobs and investment in the recycling sector.
It is important for all Victorians to have a say on the details of the proposed changes and the Government proposes to use this feedback to refine the arrangements for the ban on e-waste from landfill. The timeline for the policy package is from 4 October 2017 to 25 June 2018, followed by implementation till June 2019
To guide this process, the Victorian Government prepared a 200+ pages exhaustive document on Policy Impact Assessment.
“Oh, this is too time consuming a process” – Professor said. “We are here in a hurry. Don’t tell me that you want us to do Policy Impact Assessment of banning plastic? Let me think in the flight”. Professor left for New Delhi.
While getting back home, I was thinking.
Instead of the bans, should we not consider new solutions or better alternatives? We need to bring on board innovators who can make a difference. Let’s stop fooling ourselves about the efficacy of bans and actually roll up our sleeves and do some hard work.
And involve people and all the key stakeholders – Follow a process.
So, ban the bans and instead innovate.
Cover image sourced from
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