SUCCESSIVE governments have pledged zero tolerance against river pollution yet it takes years to implement directives of the High Court regarding the pollution of the River Buriganga. Untreated liquid industrial effluents discharged indiscriminately into the river have left the river biologically dead as the level of dissolved oxygen became very low. In 2010, Human Rights and Peace for Bangladesh filed a public interest litigation seeking court directives on the unchecked pollution of the river. In the subsequent years, the court has issued a series of orders which included identifying errant industrial units and taking actions against them. In January 2020, the court has asked the utility service providers to disconnect gas, power and waterlines of factories that are discharging untreated industrial wastes to the river. It is deeply worrying that the litigant has to move before the court again seeking order to enforce the earlier directives. However, it is commendable that the court on Sunday has asked the Department of Environment to file cases against 30 businesses including 17 washing plants at Keraniganj in Dhaka within 30 days for polluting the river. The environment department in an earlier submission to the court has reported that there are 231 industries including washing plants, textile and dying factories, plastic and furniture factories in operation on the banks of the river without a proper waste treatment plant. To comply with the court order, the department concerned has shut down some factories, but they have done so without prosecuting them under the Environmental Conservation Act. The environment department’s lawyer, however, claimed that the errant units have discreetly kept the factories running behind closed doors. What is evident from this protracted legal proceeding to save the River Buriganga is that the authorities responsible for monitoring the enforcement of environmental regulation in industrial operations are ineffective to the extent that the concerned citizens are repeatedly left with no option but to turn to the court.
Pollution has already threatened the aquatic life in the River Buriganga and locals have also showed symptoms of diseases related to water pollution. It is time that the government took the river pollution seriously and complied with the court order within the stipulated time. The environment department must file cases against the errant industrial units and ensure that no factories are in operation without a treatment plant or a clearance certificate from their department. The department must perform its mandated duty to establish environmental accountability in public and private sectors.
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