After Independence Day, how can India get rid of 200m flags?

·3 min read
<span>Photograph: Narinder Nanu/AFP/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Narinder Nanu/AFP/Getty Images

Indians were urged to buy and proudly display the national flag on Independence Day this week, with the prime minister, Narendra Modi, saying he wanted 200m flags flying in the wind.

But now the question for those who did celebrate is: how do you dispose of all the flags, with due respect and honour?

Across streets and rooftops, from mansions to huts and even remote outposts on mountains, the flag has been on display everywhere following the celebrations of the 75th anniversary on Monday of independence from Britain.

“In my life the flag used to be hoisted from the village school, never from anyone’s home. This time every home in my village had a flag outside,” said Krishna Chandra in Mukteshwar.

The strict rules regulating how and where the flag can be flown were deliberately relaxed by the government so it would be easier for more Indians to show their national pride without running into problems.

They responded enthusiastically. Though it is not known exactly how many were bought, officials in the culture ministry said the figure could exceed 200 million.

Related: India marks 75 years of independence from Britain – in pictures

The issue now is how to dispose of them. Indians may be surprised to find that it is not as easy as they might think.

Throwing it into the bin is considered sacrilegious. A municipal sweeper in Lucknow who was caught removing rubbish that happened to contain discarded photos of Modi and the home minister, Amit Shah, was sacked by his outraged superiors. He was later reinstated.

“When the flag is damaged or soiled, it shall not be cast aside or disrespectfully disposed of. It shall be destroyed, as a whole, in private,” says the National Flag Code 2022, a legally binding set of conventions relating to the flag. The code stipulates only two ways of disposing of used flags: burying or burning.

If the former, the flag has to be folded the right way, placed in a wooden box and laid in the earth. A minute’s silence is to be observed once the box has been covered with soil.

If it is to be burned, the chosen place has to be clean and tidy. It is not permitted to hold the flag, light a match and set fire to one end of it. First it must be folded and once the fire is lit, it has to be placed carefully in the centre of the flames. Consigning it to the flames without first folding it is an offence.

Related: Indians forced to buy national flag in return for food rations, says opposition

Taxi driver Kailash Kishore has been driving around in Bhimtal in north India with a small flag on the roof of his car since Monday. He was unaware of the rules of disposal but was not concerned as he has no intention of discarding it.

“I won’t remove it at all. Once it gets torn and doesn’t look good, I will put it in my living room. Then maybe in the garden, but I’m not going to get rid of it,” said Kishore.

In the Indian capital, the municipal corporation has made special plans to collect soiled or damaged flags with “dignity”. Cost-conscious Indians who wish to keep the flag for reuse next year can do so but it must be folded and stored correctly.

Disrespecting the Indian national flag is punishable by up to three years in jail or a fine or both.