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“All Citizens are Equal before Law and are Entitled to Equal Protection of Law”-Article 27 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh

Issue No: 254
September 16, 2006

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International Ozone Day

Air pollution: Rampant violation of environmental laws

Abu Noman Md. Atahar Ali

Air is indispensable for the survival of all living organisms on earth, including human beings. It is even more important than water -- without water a person can survive for days, but without air not more than a couple of minutes. But this very air is being polluted all over the world. In Bangladesh it is rampant and awesome. The industrialisation of society, the introduction of motorised vehicles, and the explosion of population are factors contributing toward the growing air pollution problem.

The principal sources of air pollution in the rural areas are brick kilns and cooking stoves. During the monsoon, rural people cook inside their houses without adequate ventilation systems. This gives rise to severe indoor air pollution which brings health hazards, particularly for women and children.

In fact, there are two major sources of air pollution in Bangladesh, industrial emissions and vehicular emissions. These are mainly concentrated in the cities. Other than those there are numerous brick kilns operated seasonally, mainly in dry season all over Bangladesh. Almost all of these kilns use coal and wood as full, resulting in the emission of particulate matter, oxides of sulfur, and volatile organic compounds. In addition to these usual sources of fuel, used rubber wheels of vehicles are also burnt, which emit black carbon and toxic gases. For this reason, the city's average SPM levels are about 2 times higher than the country's standard of 200 µg/m3 in residential areas and are more than 10 times higher than the WHO guidelines of 120 µg/m3 (24 hours) in commercial areas.

Trees play a very vital role in regenerating our environment. The poisonous gases given out by automobiles and industries -- carbon-dioxide, carbon-monoxide etc -- are taken in by the trees through the process of their leaves and in exchange they give out life giving oxygen in the air for us. The trees known as the best friend of mankind are also maintaining balance of atmosphere, particularly protecting the ozone layer. Hence, it is widely predictable that due to indiscriminate felling and use of trees, especially in brick fields as fuel, the ozone layer in undergoing rampant depletion which makes a permanent negative impact on the world climate.

It is more important to note that, this depletion of ozone layer is so serious that it has caused slits in the ozone layer permitting the ultra violate ray exposure to come this earth direct.

As a result of this dangerous ultra violate ray we are being attacked by cancer and many other diseases. According to Dr. Surian Batagoda, about 1 million people die each year worldwide as a result of urban air pollution. In Bangladesh 15 thousand people die per year and the country loses 800 million dollars for the air pollution in four major cities.

This is the state of air pollution and its awesome effect. But what's about the law in this context? Article 32 of the Constitution of the People's Republic of Bangladesh deals with the protection of right to life and personal liberty. Although it does not explicitly recognise the right to environment but in two recent cases [48 DLR (1996) 438 and 17 BLD (1996) (AD) 1] the Supreme Court of Bangladesh has resolved that the "right to life" enshrined as a fundamental right includes the "right to a healthy environment". So we can demand a healthy air as a right. It should be noted that, there are a good number of Acts in the country to deal with environmental problems. But some of these laws are so old that they cannot fulfil the present demand of the society. It is more important to mention that, most of the laws are not enforced due to alleged practice of corruption among the enforcing authority. The new laws also need amendment to accommodate the present environmental hazard.

It has been noted earlier that, the main reason of air pollution in Bangladesh is the black smog produced by industrial and vehicular emissions. Especially the huge number of brick-kilns and the indiscriminate felling of trees for use as firewood there of affecting the environment a lot. These are because the laws are not in action. Parliament of Bangladesh passed the Brick Burning Control Act, 1992 which provides that a brick field can be set up on 1.5 acres of land but many brickfield owners use 3 to 6 acres of land, in some cases more than that, for setting up brickfield. Certainly the land should be fallow land but in most cases it is not. It is also mandatory to install a minimum 50 feet high chimney with filter in every kiln for emission of smoke. But the owners are violating the law using lower chimneys and sending vaporous waste, dust, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, florin etc in the immediate atmosphere. According to Brick Burning Control Ordinance of 1992 and 2001 (revised) the owners are prohibited from using all kinds of fire wood in kilns and that a law breaker will be fined Taka 50,000 or sentenced to six months imprisonment.

According to section 12 of the Bangladesh Environment Conservation Act (ECA) 1995, no industrial unit or project shall be established or undertaken without obtaining, in the manner prescribed by rules, an Environmental Clearance Certificate from the competent authority (Director General under ECA). Section 15(8) of the said Act provided 3 years imprisonment or 3 lac taka fine or both for the violation of section 12 .But it goes without saying that the rules are violated rampantly in exchange of money and we hardly saw anyone to have been punished under the law.

In the urban areas the black smog produced by vehicular emissions is going on in violation of the traffic law as well as the Bangladesh Environment Conservation Act, 1995. The four major cities of Dhaka, Rajshahi, Cittagong and Khulna are the main victim of this.

According to section 6 of the Bangladesh Environment Conservation Act, 1995 vehicles emitting smoke or gas injurious to health or environment shall not be operated nor shall such vehicles be switched on except for the purpose of test-operation. And “smoke or gas injurious to health or environment” means any smoke or gas which exceeds the standards fixed by the rules. According to section 15(3) of the said Act any violation of this law would entail a penalty of 5 or 10 thousand taka in different cases.

Black smog is mainly produced by the old and unfit vehicles. And so to haul old and unfit vehicles under section 47 of the Motor Vehicles Ordinance, 1983 (Extracts) seems the only option to check it. There is a system of carrying a fitness certificate. It can create a very positive impact for reducing air pollution in Dhaka city. But a section of corrupt officials of Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) are allegedly issuing fitness certificates to unfit vehicles. So, in fact, the environmental laws could not be enforced for the corruption, which seems to be the main national problem of Bangladesh.

It is also a reason of air pollution in Dhaka that the Dhaka City Corporation (DCC) Ordinance, 1983 does not deal much with the total environmental problems. Bangladesh Environmental Conservation Act (ECA)-1995 and Environmental Court Act-2000 are two important legal instruments for control and conservation of environment. These laws have got the provisions for imprisonment up to 10 years or fine up to Taka 10 lac or both. But in fact, punishments for violation of environmental law in seldom occurs Bangladesh.

After coming to power the present government, made some laws like the prohibition of polythene shopping bags, banning 2-stroke 3-wheelers and other old-unfit vehicles. No doubt, these laws were too much welcomed by all classes of people across the country. But, all such laws go in vain only for the practice of corruption at levels of enforcing authorities as well as in the higher level of government. For this reason we see huge number of old vehicles on the road causing rampant environmental pollution.

Finally, in 2000 the earlier government also had given the highest priority to environment pollution and passed 'Environmental Court Act 2000' for completing environment related legal proceedings effectively. But all should bear in mind that to enact a law is easier than to implement it. Since the birth of Bangladesh many laws have been enacted for the protection of environmental. But, we all know how much effective these laws have been. So this is high time to implement and make effective the already existing laws.

The author is Lecturer, Department of Law & Justice, Southeast University, Dhaka.


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