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World Environment Day 2005: Environmental Legislation

The foundation of Bangladesh's environmental law can be traced back to the British-laid legal system. A scrutiny of the statutory laws prevailing in Bangladesh reveals that about 185 laws deal with or have relevance to environmental issues.

The statutory laws (laws enacted by the parliament) and by-laws (rules, regulations, etc. promulgated by the concerned authorities) are
the primary source of environmental legislation.

The Constitution of Bangladesh enshrines the "right to life and personal liberty  (Article 31 Right to protection of law.
To enjoy the protection of the law, and to be treated in accordance with law, and only in accordance with law, is the inalienable right of every citizen, wherever he may be, and of every other person for the time being within Bangladesh, and in particular no action detrimental to the life, liberty, body, reputation or property of any person shall be taken except in accordance with law.
Article 32. Protection of right to life and personal liberty.  No person shall be deprived of life or personal liberty save in accordance with law. )  as a fundamental right to life. Although it does not explicitly recognize the right to environment as a fundamental right, in two recent cases [XLVIII DLR, 1996, p.438 and XVII Bangladesh Legal Digest (BLD), 1996 (AD), pg.1] the Supreme Court has resolved that the "right to life" enshrined as a fundamental right includes the "right to a healthy environment"

Bangladesh is a victim of local and regional environmental problems along with global problems. The major environmental concerns for Bangladesh are deforestation, deteriorating water quality, natural disasters, land degradation, salinity, unplanned urbanization, discharge of untreated sewage and industrial wastes, and so on. The first environmental activities in Bangladesh were taken as a result of the Stockholm Conference on Human Environment in 1972. As a follow up action to the Conference, the Government of Bangladesh (GoB) funded, after promulgating the Water Pollution Control Ordinance in 1973, a project primarily aimed at water pollution control. In subsequent years, various events took place. Before 1992, there were few regulations to assist environmental protection in Bangladesh. The regulations, which did exist, included the Pesticide Law (1971), the Bengal Law for Irrigation (1976) and Environmental Pollution Control Ordinance (1977). There was no statutory obligation on conducting EIA until 1992. Due to the pressure from donor agencies, EIA was undertaken by Bangladesh Government to create an embankment around the capital city of Dhaka when it flooded in 1991. In fact, donor agencies or Non Government Organizations (NGOs) have introduced the culture of EIAs voluntarily because of the implications of foreign funding.

In 1977, Environment Pollution Control Board headed by a Member of the Planning Commission and Environment Pollution Control was established. This was followed in 1977 by the establishment of the Environment Pollution Control Project, in 1985 by the establishment of the Department Pollution Control and finally, in 1989 by the restructured and renamed the Department of Environment the activities of which are overseen by a Director General. The Ministry of Environment & Forests (Moef) is the nodal agency in the administrative structure of the Central Government, for the planning, promotion, co-ordination and overseeing the implementation of environmental and forestry programmes. MOEF oversees all environmental matters in the country and is a permanent member of the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council.

The current EIA system in Bangladesh is inadequate even to ensure environmental sustainability at the project level let alone promote environmental considerations at the strategic level. The major inadequacies are in legislative control of the EIA, procedural appropriateness of current EIA system, institutional capacity and public participation). There are no specific guidelines for conducting and reviewing the environmental assessment of non-industrial projects, for which, currently, EIAs done by the project sponsor are sent to the DOE for environmental clearance by the sectoral line agencies of the government. In fact, the DOE is still following an ad hoc based procedure for giving environmental clearance of non-industrial projects. On the other hand, Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) is inherently suitable for taking care of non-project activities.

In Bangladesh, usually in EIA study, no alternatives in terms of design, technology or location are suggested (for e.g. EIA of Gas Infrastructure Development Project, 1994). In Jamuna Multipurpose Bridge Project, no alternative to the project site was identified in the EIA report. SEA addresses those shortcomings by offering the possibility of contemplating alternative technologies, lifestyle choices, and resource uses. The State of Environment report is strongly recommending inclusion of environmental issues in various sector policies in Bangladesh, and making the different sector policies coherent regarding environment. These aspects are not considered in the existing policy measures and action programs.

The degradation of the natural resource base and environment in Bangladesh started with various human and economic development activities due to a lack of appropriate sector policies, awareness, and integration of environment and development into conventional development strategies. The government of Bangladesh recently realized the need for concern regarding environmental issues, and started incorporating environment into policies dealing with various sectors (Bangladesh: State of the Environment, 2001). Various policies are now under preparation by the relevant ministries that aim for a sustainable approach towards environmental management and development (Bangladesh: State of the Environment, 2001). However, there is no appropriate system in place to examine and assess the environmental soundness of these policies. This shortcoming might hinder the quest of Bangladesh towards sustainability especially at the strategic level.

There is the need to enhance the EIA system by improving the level of public participation, inaugurating a more effective EIA legislation and improving institutional capacity. The EIA legislation should highlight the EIA procedures and the responsibilities of stakeholders. The procedure should ensure that cumulative effects are considered and alternative plans are generated. Public participation in the EIA process should be enshrined in the legislation and the public awareness should be improved. The NGOs might play vital roles in this aspect. The capacity of government institutions (such as DoE) to implement and enforce the EIA system should be improved upon through training and the promotion of an enabling environment.

In order to ensure the consideration of environmental issues at the decision-making level, SEA system should be implemented. In the context of Bangladesh, it might be more appropriate to institute SEA as an EIA-based SEA. The present EIA mechanism can be improved by promoting EIA at the strategic level. The DoE has a vital role to play in this context by liaising with the different plan and policymaking bodies to ensure the environmental sustainability of plans, programs and policies.

source: http://www.eco-web.com/cgi-local/sfc?a=/editorial/index.html&b=/editorial/050307.html


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