Although Bangladesh has long been grappling with air pollution issues and Dhaka’s air quality has been the worst in the world for the last few years, no specific law has yet been enacted to check the menace.
The government, however, had felt the need to enact a separate law on the issue and had prepared the draft of ‘Clean Air Act’. But the government has now moved away from its position after the draft law had been gathering dust for over three years.
The government is now moving forward to formulate ‘Clean Air Rules’ instead of law.
The Department of Environment (DoE) had placed the draft law to the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change after the Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA) and Bangladesh University of Engineering & Technology (BUET) prepared the draft. The ministry had adopted the draft and prepared the ‘Clean Air Bill, 2019’. Now the ministry is in favour of Rules under the existing environmental laws. The DoE is working in this regard. The ‘Clean Air Rules’ have already been drafted as per Section 20 of the ‘Bangladesh Environment Conservation Act, 1995’.
Once vetted by the Ministry of Law, the Rules will come into effect through a gazette notification.
Dr. Abdul Hamid, Director General of DoE, told Bangladesh Post on Sunday (June 26) that no law is being enacted, but the ‘Clean Air Rules’ are being formulated. It will be finalised soon after completion of the necessary proceedings, he informed.
However, environmentalists and experts on public health want specific legislation instead of Rules. Some of them smell a rat in the changed position of the government as the authorities concerned of the government may not favour enactment of a separate law for the sake of industries and companies, who are massively involved in polluting air as well as environment.
Muhammad Anowarul Hoque, member secretary of Bangladesh Nature Conservation Alliance (BNCA), said that enactment of ‘Clean Air Act’ is now a timely demand. “Although the air pollution issue is stated in some environmental laws, enactment of a separate law is needed in the Bangladesh perspective as the air pollution becomes a massive problem in the country,” he added.
Syeda Rizwana Hasan, chief executive of BELA; Sharif Jamil, general secretary of Bangladesh Poribesh Andolan (BAPA); and Prof Dr Ahmad Kamruzzaman Majumder, head of environmental science department of Stamford University and chairman of Centre for Atmospheric Pollution Studies (CAPS); also echoed the same.
Sharif Jamil told the Bangladesh Post that Air pollution levels in Dhaka and some other cities and towns exceed both national and global standards. Collective efforts are needed to curb it. Enactment of a law is a must in this regard. However, it is very unfortunate that the draft law had been gathering dust for several years and finally the government changed its move, he added.
The draft of ‘Clean Air Act’ stipulates two years’ imprisonment and Tk 2 lakh fine for emitting harmful substances into the air. The provision is also kept in the proposed Rules.
According to the draft Rules, a 26-member National Executive Council (NEC) would be formed, which will be empowered to advise and recommend the other concerned to control air pollution. The cabinet secretary and additional secretary (pollution control) of the environment ministry will lead the council as convener and member secretary respectively.
As per the draft, the DoE DG can take steps against industries and activities which are extremely harmful to the environment and public health. The draft Rules direct the Bangladesh Road Transport Corporation (BRTC), Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) and other authorities concerned to provide the necessary support to DoE in this regard. The role of the local government institutions has also been included in the draft Rules.
The draft proposed conferring awards to individuals and establishments that help in reining in air pollution by their actions.
Even though the same provision is in the Rules, in many cases the Rules don’t actually function as the law. Separate law has different importance and requirements. There is no alternative to a separate law to control the level of air pollution in Bangladesh.
“A specific law is robust but the Rules are not,” said Syeda Rizwana Hasan of BELA.
Muhammad Anowarul Hoque of BNCA said that law should be enacted to boost institutional action to tackle the air pollution problem.
Echoing the same, Prof Dr Ahmad Kamruzzaman Majumder of CAPS said that it is very unexpected that the government is now moving towards formulating Rules after preparing the draft of ‘Clean Air Act’. “This draft was prepared after nine to ten years of effort. We want the government to make specific law on air pollution before making Rules. If necessary, Rules can be made later under that law,” he said.
Bangladesh is one of the most air polluted countries, while Dhaka is on the list of world cities with the worst air quality. The air pollution in the country contributed to a reduction of nearly seven years in the average life expectancy, according to a study.
In six years from 2016 to 2021, Dhaka got only 38 days of good air while the air quality was very unhealthy for 385 days.
The major sources of air pollution in Dhaka and other parts of the country are- uncontrolled discharge of dust from construction projects, black smoke emission from vehicles and brick kilns, road digging, renovation work, small and large industrial plants, and incineration of garbage.
In the field of air pollution, the name of Bangladesh has always been rising in the beginning. The quality of air has been dropping each year. No measures are being taken to prevent pollution. If it continues like this, a big disaster may come down. Effective measures must be taken now. Now is the time to take necessary action by enacting law.
Prof Dr Ahmad Kamruzzaman Majumder said the air has become toxic for citizens, especially city dwellers.
Against this backdrop, environmentalists and experts fear that if air pollution continues like this, a major catastrophe may come down in the country. Strong measures, including enactment of specific law, are needed to control it.
China enacted the ‘Air Pollution Control Act’ in 2013 and the country has managed to combat air pollution after enacting the law. Between 2013 and 2019, there has been a 29 percent drop in particulate matter pollution on average in China.
The High Court on February 1 this year blasted the authorities concerned for their failure in controlling the air pollution in Dhaka and the surrounding areas. “Public health is at serious risk due to the air pollution,” an HC bench had said while hearing a writ petition.
However, the government is showing extreme indifference in this regard. In response to a question as to why the government is moving towards formulation of Rules instead of the law, Dr Kamruzzaman Majumder said that enactment of law would increase some of the responsibilities and accountability for the different bodies of the government. Several steps need to be taken to prevent air pollution. Out of reluctance to take those steps, they may not be moving towards legislation.
Sharif Jamil of BAPA, on the point however, said that it is not clear why the government does not yet consider air pollution a major problem. An attempt is being made by the government to bypass the issue. So, the government is moving towards framing Rules instead of law. There is a need for psychological change in the government to understand the serious problem of air pollution, he added.
He, however, said it may be one of the reasons for backpaddling of the authorities concerned to save air pollutants. “If there was a strong law, the companies that are involved in air pollution would not be able to move forward. It is the job of those inside the government who are active for their own or group interests. If such a major problem is not considered a problem and attempts are made to bypass it, it will become more serious day by day,” he added.
Saber Hossain Chowdhury, chairman of the parliamentary standing committee on the environment ministry, said that they wanted a law to combat air pollution, but the government is framing Rules. He, however, said that Rules can’t solve the crisis properly if there is not specific law.