Protecting rivers with law enforcement

by Tasmiah Nuhiya Ahmed | Published: 00:00, Feb 21,2020


THE illegal dumping of both industrial and household wastes has created a huge environmental problem over the past few decades. Faulty environmental protection laws and corrupt law enforcement have been identified as major reasons for this problem that escalates by the day.

The environmental law regime in Bangladesh to protect rivers from pollution comprises some laws, rules and policies. Article 18(A) of the constitution clearly states that the state will endeavour to protect and conserve rivers, wetlands and forests. Other laws — the Bangladesh Water Act 2013, the National River Protection Commission Act 2013 and the Environment Conservation Act, 1995 — have provisions for the protection of the environment and control and mitigation of environmental pollution. According to the Environment Conservation Rule 1997, landfill activity with industrial, household and commercial wastes is categorised as a red category activity and, therefore, undertaking any landfill project must consider environmental impact assessment and no-objection certificates need to be obtained. The Factory Act 1965 addresses cleanliness, disposal of wastes and polluted liquids, air circulation and temperature control, control of dust, sand and smoke, artificial ventilation, heavy traffic arrangement of sufficient light, drinking water, toilet, latrines, etc within mills and factories. From 2000, after the enactment of the Environment Court Act, a specialised environmental court system has been introduced in the legal system. In 2010, a fresh Environment Court Act, the Bangladesh Environment Court Act 2010, was passed and the 2000 act was repealed. The current act is aimed at establishing one or more environment courts in each district with joint district judges and the judges will in addition to their ordinary function dispose of the cases that fall within the jurisdiction of an environment court. So, if a river is polluted or encroached upon, those affected by it should be able go to court seeking remedial measures.

The Dhaka Municipal Ordinance 1983 authorises Dhaka’s north and south city corporations to take the responsibility for the removal, collection and disposal of refuse, management of latrines and urinals, control on dyeing and tanning rawhides, bricks, medical practice on infectious diseases and direction towards house scavenging, cleaning drainage, cleansing of streets etc. The Environment Policy 1992 intends to restrict disposal of municipal, industrial or agricultural wastes in any water bodies like rivers, ponds and drains. It also discourages transportation of waste on uncovered truck during daytime collection. The Urban Management Policy Statement 1998 considers the interest of providing economic, efficient and reliable services; municipalities shall endeavour to contract out solid waste disposal, public sanitation, drain cleaning and road maintenance.

A number of directives came from the High Court to stop dumping wastes in the River Buriganga. The Human Rights and Peace for Bangladesh served a legal notice to save the water of the Buriganga in the High Court in 2010. The High Court on June 1, 2011 came up with a judgement and gave some directions to the authorities concerned. All sewerage lines which are connected to the Buriganga and waste treatment lines from industries have to be delinked from discharging liquid wastes into the rivers within a year. The Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority chair was ordered to implement the work. The responsibility of the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority is to ensure eviction of illegal possession of lands from the river bank. According to the direction of the High Court, the city authorities will run programmes to create awareness among people of dumping waste into and along the river and will put up placards sporting the High Court direction. Unfortunately, despite having these laws and directions in force, Bangladesh has failed to protect its rivers.

Strict measures must be undertaken to ensure zero dumping of industrial waste into the river. The government must ensure at any cost that the industrial wastes are treated according to the regulatory standards before it gets into the river. An effective committee must be formed by the government, comprising of environmentalists, scientists, administrators and university faculties to ensure zero dumping of industrial waste in the river.

Tasmiah Nuhiya Ahmed is an advocate of Supreme Court.

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