Patna: Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) Chief and former Railway Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav may be behind the bars and his main political rivals are in power at the Centre and in Bihar. But his 15 years old eco-friendly idea to replace plastic tea cups with kulhars (earthen cups) in trains and railway stations is set to become a popular trend soon. Railway stations across Bihar have decided to promote the use of kulhars instead of plastic cups.
This is a good news also for hundreds of poor potters who come from marginalised backgrounds and are currently struggling for survival. But this decision, which will be responsible for the increase in demand of kulhars, will help them earn their livelihood.
In 2004, when Yadav became the railway minister for the first time, he tried to popularise age-old kulhars for tea in trains and at railway stations, but failed, as his dream project had few takers.
With single-use plastic, including plastic cups, banned from October 2, railway authorities are gearing up to revive the initiative. “Railway Board has directed to promote use of kulhars for serving tea in trains and at railway stations,” said Manish Kumar, supervisor, eastern region, Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC).
Manish said that kulhar is the best available option to get rid of toxic plastic cups “Thousands of cups of tea are being sold daily across the eastern region. Use of kulhar will be a positive contribution to save environment and help fight the climate change,” he added.
Rajesh Kumar, Chief Public Relations Officer of East Central Railway (ECR), said, “We are already encouraging use of kulhars at Patna railway station and other stations and will introduce kulhars in trains as well.”
Kumar added, “It is not new because at a few railway stations, it is already being used by some tea sellers. Chai in kulhars has a different taste and people prefer to have it like that.”
Soon after taking over as the railway minister during the term of UPA I, Yadav had ordered replacement of non-biodegradable plastic cups with kulhars for beverages in trains. Lalu had won acclaim from environmentalists and others for this decision. However, owing to its poor implementation, it could remain merely a government scheme on the paper.
Ranjeev, an environmental activist, said that earthen cups will generate employment opportunities for the poor.
He recalled that impressed by Yadav's move to bring in kulhars, Ken Hunt, a business advisor of UK Trade and Investment (UKTI), South Asia unit, had said that it is a wonderful idea and needs to get wider advocacy and publicity.
Satya Narayan Madam, a political activist, told NewsClick that Yadav's move was seen by his political rivals as a decision to benefit his vote bank. “There is no doubt that Lalu's decision was welcomed by people belonging to the potter community then. Use of earthen cups by railways would have helped them revive their dying craft.”
Mahendar Pandit, a potter and a resident of Phulwarisarif locality in Patna, told NewsClick that at present, demand of Kulhar is low, as most of the tea hawkers use plastic cups. “We were happy over a decade ago when Lalu ji had made the announcement. It was a big news for us, but it was hardly ever implemented.”
Another potter, Ramavatar Pandit, said, “We are selling 100 pieces of kulhars for Rs 70 to 75. We get some profit to sustain life. It is one of the cheapest handmade thing, good for health and environment-friendly.”