The failure of environmental policies in BD: It’s time to let the cat out of the bag

Publish: 9:00 PM, December 9, 2023 | Update: 9:00 PM, December 9, 2023

Sadia Afrin Kumu : Bangladesh has a long legacy of environment related policies. Since  the early 1980s environmental  issues  have  started drawing attention of  the policy planners  in Bangladesh, the environmental  policy in Bangladesh started to  take  shape. The 1990’s decade marks the beginning of the history of environmental policy in Bangladesh. The need for  rapid industrial  and economic growth introduced such a  situation  in Bangladesh  that  has  resulted  into a situation whereby healthy  environment  has  become a  huge  task. Like all  other  nations  of  the world, Bangladesh also acted on the global  call  for  the protection and conservation of  natural  environment  and ecology.The concerns  for environment  protection were, however,  reflected on the national  planning process and several  policies.

In the early 1990s, the government started to  take  measures, drafted the National  Conservation Strategy, adopted  the National  Environment  Policy1992 and revised the old  law  by enacting the Bangladesh Environment  Conservation ActRules 1995, Environment  Conservation 1997 and Bangladesh Environment  Court  Act environment  justice  system. The concerns  for  environment  protection were, however, reflected in the national planning process  that  was  started in 1973  in  Bangladesh with  the formulation of First  Five Year  Plan. The First  (1973-78), Second  (1980-85) and Third (1985-90) Five Year Plans laid thrust on the promotion of environmental security in Bangladesh. Inthese Five Year Plans, emphasis was made for the first time on the environmentally desirable integrated development.

In a nutshell,  the concern about  environmental  issues  has  been reflected  in different  policy initiatives  taken by the government  of  Bangladesh. The major policy initiatives, strategies and plans emphasized environment and natural resources management to achieve sustainable development. Since the 1990s environmental management has become a priority issue in Bangladesh. Already, successive governments have adopted a number of policies where environment and development issues have been addressedconsciously. Bangladesh is trying to adopt the laws and policies by either amending its constitution or by enacting new national legislation regarding environmental protection.  Bangladesh is also trying to incorporate environmental friendly legislation, policy for the healthy and clean environment. But these laws, policies, initiatives are not getting enough success in Bangladesh.

Although the governments have deployed an series of environmental protection laws, our country continues to experience unprecedented environmental “crises,” including climate change, resource depletion, species extinction, ecosystem damage, and toxic air-water-land pollution. Despite the remarkable acknowledgment and recognition of these serious environmental issues, and despite of having a growing list of laws designed to address these issues, the reality is that these severeimpacts of environmental changes continue, and may even be worsening. There is an unavoidable problem of the countries like Bangladesh to implement the environmental laws because of inadequate national legal mechanism. However, some usual practices and constraints, in terms of institutional, legal, policy framework still lag behind these policies.

Inter- sectoral coordination in dealing with cross cutting issue like environment is a major issue in Bangladesh. The management responsibilities of different environmental components are divided into different sectors and ministries. This hinders smooth operation and execution of sustainable management regime.Such inconsistencies are responsible for the inter-sectoral conflicts, mainly due to lack of coordination. In  the process, the subject  of  protecting the  resources  and  the ecosystems  does  not  happen to be treated with appropriate urgency and priority and thus  creates  inconsistencies. Sectoral policies are sometimes found to be in conflict with each other. This sort of conflicts among the policies is serious flows in this aspect.

On the other hand, there are few  action programmes  and a  lack  of  skills  and expertise  to take appropriate actions  to ensure that  both government  and private sector developments  properly address  environmental  concerns.  With  few  exceptions  there is  still  a lack of  institutional  awareness  let  alone capabilities  to address  policy goals and objectives. Institutional  capacity for  implementing the various  action measures identified  for  fulfilling the primary  functions  of  environmental  planning, monitoring and enforcement  remains  weak. This  is  due  to a number  of  factors including  lack of  consistency among the policies  and  the institutional  weakness  of the line agencies  of  the Government. Most  of  the concerned Ministries  and Departments  lack institutional  capacities  in terms  of  human, technological  and financial  resources  needed for  proper  implementation of  the policies. They have shortage of adequate and trained manpower. There is lack of an information management system supported by a strong data bank to back up planning, policies and monitoring activities.  Absence of regular training programs to support staff development.

Most significantly, the major  constraint  behind  the failure of  the  environmental  laws  of  Bangladesh is the low  budget  and  funding  in the environment  sector. The sustainable development of a country requires a big amount of funding to ensure the proper implementation of the environmental policies. For the inadequate budget, the implementation of environmental policies lags behind. Poverty is one of the main factors of environmental degradation in a developing country. Poverty alleviation has  been in  focus  in all  the successive plans  but  the country had different  experiments  to face in  different  plans. Besides this, extreme pressure of  a huge  population of  more than 170  million on a  limited resource  base, including  land, has  strained the country’s  carrying capacity in terms of  both the  source  and  the functions  of  the  environment. In such an pervasive predicament,  the environment  policy- making  and implementation are  intensely affected rather  than  overemphasized.

The institutional  aspects  reflect  the need of  inter-sectoral  cooperation to  tackle environmental  problems  that  need new  and appropriate institutional  mechanisms  at national  levels. Environmental  issues  need to be dealt  with the participation of  all  concerned, with the government  and citizens  at  the  relevant  levels. This, unfortunately, Is  almost absent  in Bangladesh. Moreover  international  organizations  and  multinational corporations  most  often are pressing  the government  to adopt  unsustainable policy, which cause serious  degradation to  the environment  in developing countries including Bangladesh.

The formulated policies, although fairly rich in content, are not always supported by necessary actions of implementation. The policies are not  that  convenient  to implement  either. Though the policy  states  that  “coordination’  will  be established but  the  mechanism for  that  has  not  been spelled out. Besides  these, due to the absence of  an overall  monitoring authority of these departments, no progress  or  suggestions for  the  improvement  in  this  area  has  yet  been  achieved.

After  the  independence the growth of  industries  in the  country has  generally been unplanned without  keeping  the issue of  environmental  protection in careful consideration. There are many industries in the residential area causing pollution of air and water through smoke emitting chimney and dumping of untreated effluent. Industrial wastage have  polluted the water  of  the Buriganga,  the Shitalakhya, the Karnafuli  and the Rupsha  rivers. Effluents from tanneries are extremely harmful to human beings since they contain high concentration of chromium compounds. Industries are significantly responsible for environment pollution. But  the government  or  law  enforcement  agencies  fail  to impose concerned environment laws  for  the arbitrary approach of  the industrialists. They don’t  pay any heed  to the environmental  laws.

It is worth mentioning here that, most  of  the politicians  are from  business  sectors in the context  of Bangladesh. They themselves  are industrialists. Besides  this, the  industrialists, who are responsible for  intense environment  pollution, make  the  law  makers  biased by raising funds  or  incentives  and thus  the polluter  dominate  the policy making process of this country. This frustrating reality regarding the nexus between the politicians  and  polluters are sometimes  responsible  for the   un-implementation of  environmental laws strictly.

On the other hand, the majority of  the environmental  laws  were  passed under  substantially different population  and development  conditions. These outdated  laws  and other  improperly and incompletely updated laws  are neither  adequate to  meet  the present  day needs of  the country nor  consistent  with the changing environmental  scenario of  the world. A  law  passed two to  five decades  back cannot  incorporate the concept  of sustainable development  or  one’s  right  to healthy environment, which are the outcome of  very recent  concern about  environment. Such laws  can not  play any effective  role  in combating environmental  pollution in  today’s  Bangladesh, For example, Agricultural  and Sanitary  Improvement  Act, 1920;  Embankment  and Drainage  Act, 19 52;  The Town Improvement  Act, 1953 yet.Moreover, the existing laws  can be  criticized for  their  non-punitive approach.Only a few legislations  like The Penal  Code, Tea  Plantation Ordinance, Wildlife  (preservation) Order  etc. provide for  punishment, but  these  are also  too marginal  to  influence people’s  attitude.

There  are  some other barriers  in the application of  environmental  laws  in Bangladesh, such as lack of  awareness  about  environment, lack of proper knowledge about  the law  at  the operational  level as  well  as duties, lack of  political  commitment, institutional  weaknesses  and the  lack of  policy orientation, uncertainties  over  the  legal  status  of  resources, absence of  firm  and  long implemented by term  policies  in some sectors  that  are to be appropriate laws

Therefore, undertaking plenty of  new  laws  would not  bring in  the desired change in the environmental  order. The  failure of  the  existing law  is  overwhelmingly attributable to  the negligence of  the  implementing agencies. Strict accountability with compatible sanction need to be well stipulated and practised together with massive awareness programme. Enforcement  of  environmental  legislations  and standards  has  to begin with public agencies  and sectors  that  control  the key resources  of  the  environment. The  combatting of  the pressing needs  of  the environment  cannot  be met  without  an effective legal  framework and its  proper implementation.

The writer is a student of the Department of International Relations of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Science and Technology University, Gopalganj.