Mumbai: The Bombay High Court bench of Justices Suresh Gupte and Makarand Karnik on June 15 dismissed a clutch of petitions that challenged the tender invited by the state which allowed only manufacturers who produced textbooks from ‘100 per cent recycled papers’ to submit their bid. The tenders were issued by the state Bureau of Textbooks & Production and Curriculum Research (Balbharti).
The bench was hearing petitions filed by manufacturers of papers, who use virgin pulp i.e. pulp made up of basic agricultural waste like wheat straw, rice straw, sarkanda grass, baggasse, etc.
The manufacturers through senior counsels Milind Sathe and Dr Birendra Saraf argued that the Balbharti erred in disallowing manufacturers of papers using virgin pulp (of agro-based waste), and also from wood, and allowing only those who used 100 per cent recycled paper to produce papers for the textbooks.
The state through advocate general Ashutosh Kumbhakoni informed the bench that it has modified its tender advertisements and allowed even manufacturers of virgin pulp (only agro-based) to participate in the bidding process. Kumbhakoni, however, refused to accept the contention that the state wronged in initially excluding these manufacturers.
On the other hand, Sathe and Saraf furnished a report prepared by the Central Pulp and Paper Research Institute, Saharanpur, which indicated that paper made out of recycled pulp is 'toxic and carcinogenic, and is harmful for use by students.'
The bench having heard the contentions, noted that the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change on August 29, 2018 had issued a directive to all the states and Union territories for promoting procurement of recycled paper. This directive, the judges noted, was issued with a view to promote procurement of recycled paper and avoid improper restrictive measures like insisting only on paper made out of virgin pulp in the interest of environment and for preservation of forests.
"The directive indicates that the matter was examined in the Ministry and it was of the view that recycled paper pulp helps preserve forest by avoiding cutting of trees, besides such paper having less pollution potential compared to paper made from virgin pulp," the judges noted.
The bench further took into account the directives issued by the Human Resource Development (HRD) ministry as well as the University Grants Commission (UGC) asking all the departments to promote procurement of recycled paper and avoid incorporating restrictive conditions, such as exclusive use of paper made of virgin pulp in tenders for procurement of writing and printing paper.
"It is obvious that Union Ministry of Environment has been of a considered view that it was important to promote use of paper made of recycled pulp equally with paper made of virgin pulp, even agro based virgin pulp," the judges noted, adding, "This has now being proposed, as a matter of policy, promotion of use of paper made of recycled pulp with a view to address environmental concerns, such as climate change, air pollution, resources depletion, waste disposal, etc. caused by activities relating to mass production and mass disposal."
"If the policy of promotion of recycled paper pulp has been deliberately propounded by the Ministry after consideration of the matter, and the concerns behind such policy being important and legitimate concerns with a view to address environmental issues, it cannot possibly be suggested that the procurement notice issued by Balbharati is either capricious or whimsical or unreasonable," the bench held.
The judges trashed the contentions of the manufacturers that there was "improper or ulterior motive or colourable exercise of power" on the part of the state. Meanwhile, the bench held that the report by the Central Pulp and Paper Research Institute concluding that papers from recycled paper plan was 'just a point of view' as it wasn't backed with 'any concrete scientific literature or material.'
"The statement in its report is merely meant to be a general caution for the use of recycled paper for textbooks for children, as children tend to ingest paper or lick on it while turning pages. So also, it is obvious that the institute has not come across any specific studies on health hazards from recycled paper," the bench said.
The bench accordingly dismissed the petitions that challenged inclusion of only the manufacturers that used 100 per cent recycled paper.