The Delhi government’s ban on plastic bags and gutka — the cheap mix of chewing tobacco and betel nut that you take for a quick high — is a welcome step, but it may be too soon to imagine city corners free of gutka “graffiti” and plastic-choked sewers.
Plastic bags lie strewn in city alleys, clogging drainage pipes, harming cows that eat them along with the garbage that they nibble on, and offer a prime breeding ground for harmful bacteria and disease.
Gutka, meanwhile, has an estimated 65 million users in India and causes tens of thousands of oral cancer cases every year.
People who don’t chew it have to deal with the nasty red mix of saliva and used gutka all over the street and the walls when they’re walking. People who do chew it, especially poorer people, find it an easy fix for a few rupees or less. Ban the trade, and watch it move underground. There’s always a way for a pot smoker to get what he needs, and there’s no reason to expect any difference with gutka.
When it comes to plastic bags, alternatives aren’t as cheap, but people tend to not mind flouting what they consider “nanny-state” laws if the fines aren’t that high. After all, paying the fine might be easier for some than hunting for a jute bag.