THE ban that High Court has ordered on the establishment of industries within 10 kilometres of the Sunderbans, the world’s largest contiguous stretch of mangrove forest, is heartening. What is further encouraging is that the court, on Thursday, also asked the government to explain in four weeks the legality of the establishment of 156 industries — mostly set up after the government on August 30, 1999 banned the construction and operation of any industries within 10 kilometres that could pollute the forest. The court has further asked the government why it would not be directed to remove these industries that are exposing the ecology and biodiversity of the Sunderbans to various threats. The rule, made on a writ petition, has named secretaries to the ministries of environment, industries, and land and the environment department director general respondent and asked authorities to submit a list of all the industries set up within 10 kilometres of the Sunderbans after a survey to the court during the next hearing posted for March 1, 2018.
Such a court order, it is hoped, could lead the government into removing the polluting factories, running and being established, amidst protests and concern voiced by experts and green activists, in the environmentally critical areas of the Sunderbans. As most of the 156 industrial units have been set up, after the 1999 ban, either by the government or private entrepreneurs, supposedly enjoying political clout, it can very well be inferred that owners of the factories and other installations obtained environmental clearance and renewal certificates from the environment department using political influence and taking the advantage of the loopholes that the government order banning the establishment of such installations contained. The latest list that the environment department prepared in September 2016 shows that 27 of the 156 industries being placed in the high-pollution category, 56 in the medium-pollution category and the rest in the ordinary-pollution category. But they all do pollute the environment and keep putting the Sunderban ecology at risk. And as the government has allowed the industries to be set up there, it comes to be playing the leading role in exposing the Sunderbans to continuous threat, which would harm the ecology of the forest, gradually leading, even if over a prolonged period, to the depletion of the Sunderbans, the only defence of Bangladesh against the rising sea and destructive cyclones.
The government, under the circumstances, must comply with the court order in removing polluting factories and stopping the establishment of any such factories in the vicinity of 10 kilometres of the Sunderbans. It must also look into the approval or the issuance of environmental clearance of the industries set up in the place after the 1999 ban and punish anyone found guilty after proper investigation. The government is also left with the most important task in this regard — caulking the gaps in the laws and regulations related to the safeguard of the environment and the Sunderbans the exploitation of which has led to the current situation.
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