If Sign Printing Industries Association (SPIA) of Kerala wins this case, it will set a precedent bringing a ray of hope to flex manufactures across the country as respective state governments will be forced to take back ban.
The state government announced that flex material made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC) has been banned in the state in view of health and environmental issues it causes. In this regard, an order from the Department of Local Self Government has been issued, which states that PVC flex should not be printed or used for government functions, private or religious events, cinema promotion or advertising. Instead of PVC, cloth, paper and poly ethylene material which can be recycled should be used. Cloth with plastic coating should not be used.
It was this September that a new wave of ban on flex emerged. This time, it was Kerala’s turn where the use of flex made out of Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC), commonly used for creating publicity material that can cause immense health and environmental issues, has been banned by the state government. In fact, the local self-government department has issued an order in this regard wherein all the rules and steps to be taken in this regard have been detailed.
As per the order, flex cannot be used for publicity in government programmes, private functions, religious functions, cinema, elections or any other events. Instead, materials that are recyclable and environment-friendly should be promoted. It was also clarified that publicity materials should be prepared with recyclable stuff i.e., cloth, paper and polyethylene. Moreover, it was mentioned that the details of the printer and expiry date of the material should be printed on such publicity materials.
It is also mentioned in the order that the material so prepared should carry a line in print that ‘the material has been prepared using recyclable stuff’. For event-based publicity materials, the date of expiry should be the date of the event, while for other publicity materials, it should not exceed 90 days. All such materials should be removed within seven days of the expiry period by those who erected such materials. Fine will be imposed on those who use or print publicity materials using PVC flex.
In order to explore the impact of this ban on flex manufacturers and the PSPs of the state of Kerala, we at Sign & POP World, came in contact with Anirudhan Vijayaraj, who is the State General Secretary of Sign Printing Industries Association of Kerala. We spoke to him over phone and tried finding out the impact and the steps that the association is taking to get the ban lifted.
Explaining the ban, Vijayaraj informs that the state was trying to impose it two years back. “Since 2017, a state agency has been trying to get the flex ban implemented and accordingly it was proactively working in that direction. To start with, it flagged off its mission from Kannur district of Kerala by raiding printing units against which our association members had protested.”
The sudden attack pushed the association members to look for some viable solution. “We were looking out for some solution and eventually, we came across the recycling possibilities of flex through a recycling unit that was operational in Delhi. We installed one such unit in Mandia, Mysore. But we couldn’t make good use of it because of the on-going resistance,” says Vijayaraj.
This was more so owing to the absence of the required clearance from pollution control board. “Unfortunately, the awaited clearance from pollution control board was not issued to us, following which we were forced to take it away from Mysore. We then got it installed at a place near Bengaluru where we sent 22 truckloads of materials from Kerala and recycled it,” he shares adding that the job of recollection and sending to recycling unit is tedious and accordingly the recycling process got impacted.
Vijayaraj opines that the actual order that was issued from the court was different than what was being circulated through media. “At one hand, the state judiciary was seemingly in no mood to allow any respite as the Kerala High Court kept on issuing a host of orders against the unauthorised signboards. On the other hand, media didn’t really understand the unauthorised placements of signboards made out of flex and misrepresented it as ban on flex usage, which eventually led the state government to issue an order to completely ban the usage of flex.”
The whole episode happened during the end of August and starting of September, which is the main business time each year as it is the festive season that starts with Onam. “No wonder, we expected a slew of jobs. But the official ban on flex restricted us from any such activity as supply of materials was stopped.”
Meanwhile, chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan urged all to avoid use of plastic during Onam festival and tourism week celebrations. He specifically mentioned that the green protocol that was introduced for marriages and conferences has been a hit and that is why the government has now decided to ban flex material completely.
During his address to the people on this topic, CM also cited the outcome of the devastating flood. He said that tonnes of plastic came out from the soil and water bodies after the floods that have caused immense damage to the environment. He mentioned that if the government and people join hands, the use of plastic and thereby the degradation of the environment can be contained.
According to Vijayaraj, this order and CM’s address to people wasn’t a very good sign for flex stakeholders. “It was then we started protesting against the government order in three districts namely, Trivandrum, Kochi and Calicut. Through this protest, we tried our best to convince the government. We met concerned ministers as well as responsible government bodies, but failed in our efforts. This failure gave us more strength and led us to launch a bigger protest,” he asserts.
The agitation was getting strengthened with each passing day as various entities came and offered their support. “Finally, we started protesting in front of Kerala Secretariat. It went on incessantly for 16 days. Quite a few representatives of ruling political party, opposition leaders, Kerala Printers Association, Chamber of Commerce, Vyapari Vyavsay Samiti, etc. came to us and gave their support. On the 17th day, there were around 25,000 protesters covering the entire secretariat,” he adds.
“The notable point of the final protest was its inauguration which was done by Ramesh Chennithala, who kept our protest alive by putting our concern to the government time and again. Meanwhile, we are continuously sending truckload of materials to Rudrapur unit for recycling,” avers Vijayaraj.
According to him, the ball is in chief justice’s court now and is almost in the last phase. “The high court has asked the government to prove that the flex is non-recyclable. Since it can’t be proved, we believe that we are surely going to win this case. And if we win this case in Kerala, it will be a win for flex manufacturers in the entire country. The whole country is looking at us.”