A hard time has befallen Sunderbans, the world’s largest mangrove forest, as it continues to face a rapid pace of environmental degradation because of government negligence towards its biodiversity. As such, green activists’ demand on Sunday that the government should immediately revoke its approval for 320 industrial installations, mostly hazardous to environment near Sunderbans, as New Age reported on Monday, is justifiable. They condemned the National Environmental Committee which on August 6 gave approval for 304 industries established near Sunderbans after late 1990s and 16 new such installations including Red categorised liquid bottling factory. They also said that the environment and forest ministry had not supervised the establishment of hazardous industries within the environmentally critical area with proper strategic environmental assessment. Worse still, our past experiences tend to suggest that the forest department is oriented to viewing natural forests not as fragile ecosystems that need protection but as resources meant for harvesting for the government’s revenue.
Notably, 149 factories and other establishments, 24 of which are classified in the red category for their gravity of pollution, set up within the environmentally critical areas of the forest, continue to pollute the forest. Many of the polluting factories were built either by the government itself or private entrepreneurs, taking the advantage of loopholes in a government order passed in August 1999 banning the construction and operation of such industries within 10 kilometres of the Sunderban periphery. On top of this, the government is going ahead with the Rampal coal-fired plant at Rampal disregarding people’s voice against the plant. The planned power plant has, as green campaigners say, its impact on the environment during pre-construction, construction and operation stages: withdrawal of water from the River Passur, noise pollution, pollution from ash and the dangers of coal transport through Sunderbans. With the effects of climate change becoming more palpable and Bangladesh experiencing cyclones like Sidr and Aila with more frequency and intensity, Sunderbans should be our only line of defence against the carnage wrought by such extreme weather events. But the government’s promise for conservation of Sunderbans seems to be limited to rhetoric only. In Bangladesh, successive governments since liberation have done very little to take worthwhile measures to slow down the rate of destruction and reverse the process through conservation. Experts say lack of political will and non-enforcement of relevant rules are contributing to the depletion of biodiversity.
Be that as it may, the government needs to act in compliance with the UN Convention on Biological Diversity which stipulates, ‘Biodiversity — the biological and ecological diversity of plants, animals and microbes — is important for maintaining life-sustaining systems’, in the greater interest of the nation.
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