Andrew Buncombe: Politicians try talking a lot of rubbish again

Delhi Notebook
Click to follow
The Independent Online

There's a nice old-fashioned barney going on between local and national politicians in the Indian capital, and its all about plastic bags – or rather how to get rid of them. There was a time, in the Kodachrome-tinted era of yesteryear, when people in India carried cloth or jute bags to the market to take home their shopping.

Then of course, came the plastic bag: convenient, easy but all too simply discarded. The result? The piles of rubbish and mess people in India are too aware of. So earlier this year, following in the forward-thinking footsteps of officials in the Himalayan states, the Delhi authorities decided to ban plastic bags and threaten shopkeepers with hefty fines if they still provided them. Overnight, my local vegetable store put up a government sign warning there would be no more bags. Of course, bags were still available and the government has not handed out a single fine, but there appears to be an effort by people to cut down on plastic and to bring their shopping bags from home. (I went out and bought a smart new jute bag for 30p).

Now, the federal environment minister has told people to keep using plastic bags. Speaking in parliament, Jairmam Ramesh claimed banning plastic bags would lead to deforestation in India because trees were cut down to produce more paper ones. "Most states have banned plastic bags because municipal bodies had failed to deal with them," the minister said with curious logic, seemingly blind to the idea that the ban is the city's way of dealing with them.

Local government and green activists are not amused. "Mr Ramesh is not worthy of being an environment minister. I can't believe what he said," said Iqbal Malik, founder of the non-governmental group Vatavaran. "He doesn't care for the environment."

My mountain in the mist

On a trip to Darjeeling, I stay at a splendid guesthouse ran by two Tibetans and which (potentially) has views of Kangchenjunga, the world's third-highest mountain. The first day I look out of my window in search of the sacred peak to be greeted by nothing but mist, and the same on day two. On my final morning I am woken at 5.30am by bells from a Hindu temple. Cursing the noise, I throw back my curtains to discover a clear blue sky and a breathtaking vista. It too looks like Kodachrome. Within minutes the mist is back and the mountain is gone.

Hillary offers a (bad) tip

Hillary Clinton is in Delhi and says she loves Indian food. Curiously, she (and her husband, previously) appears interested only in talking up a famous but utterly over-hyped and super-expensive restaurant located in a five-star hotel. Surely her hosts can sort her out with something a little more authentic?