Environmental Laws

Environmental Laws legal measures for the conservation and protection of the environment and ecology. These laws lay down the rights and duties of citizens and public agencies in consonance with the global call for a healthy environment.

Environmental laws existed in the country right from the 19th century, although they remained either unenforced to a large extent or were vaguely known to the people and the responsible public agencies. The prevailing traditional practices were not conducive to environmental protection or conservation of resources. Some laws have also become redundant, as the conditions for which these were enacted do not exist any longer.

In 1989, the Ministry of Environment and Forest was established to address environment-related issues. The government drafted a national conservation strategy, adopted the national environment policy of 1992, and revised the old law by enacting the Bangladesh Environment Conservation Act, 1995. The Department of Environment was also restructured. The national environment management action plan (NEMAP) has also been finalised and is being implemented. A study shows that there are about 185 laws that have either a direct or an indirect bearing on the environment.

A law was enacted in 1974 to control pollution of water. That law was replaced by an ordinance in 1977. The concern for water subsequently became a concern for management of the environment and this led to the Environment Conservation Act of 1995. Conservation as it has been defined in the Act of 1995, would require qualitative and quantitative improvement of different components of the environment and prevention of their degradation. Environment, as has been defined in the Act, includes water, air, land and other physical properties and the interrelationships which exists among them and between them, and human beings, other living beings, plants and micro-organisms.

The Act has also given operational definitions of 'eco-systems', 'pollution', 'waste', and 'hazardous substance' previously such definitions did not exist in the legal regime. This Act has given the Director General of the Department of Environment all the authority needed to deal with matters connected with protection of the environment. The Act sought to address emission from vehicles, an environmental offence that was addressed in the Motor Vehicles Ordinance of 1983. The provision for punishment makes the implementation of this Act rather difficult as that requires exercise of magisterial power. Under Section 12 of the Act, no industrial unit shall be established and no industrial project adopted without obtaining environmental clearance from the Director General of the Department of Environment. Prior to that, adoption of pollution fighting devices for industries was binding for the industries by virtue of a notification of the Ministry of Local Government, Rural Development and Co-operatives. With the subsequent adoption of the Environment Conservation Rules of 1997 some progress has been made with regard to the effective implementation of the Act.

The Act of 1995 also empowered the government to declare an area to be an 'ecologically critical area' (ECA) if its eco-system appears to be under serious threats of degradation or is degraded. The Ministry of Environment and Forests has already declared seven areas as critical. These are the Sundarbans, Cox';s Bazar-Teknaf sea beach, St. Martin';s Island, Shonadia Island, Hakaluki Haor, Tanguar Haor, and Marzat Oxbow Lake. In these ECAs, a ban has been imposed on some activities that include felling or extracting trees; hunting and poaching of wild animals; catching or collection of snails, coral, turtles, and other creatures; any activities that may threaten the habitat of flora and fauna; activities likely to destroy or alter the natural characteristics of the soil and water; establishment of industries that may pollute soil, water, air and/or create noise pollution; and any other activity that may be harmful for fish and aquatic life.

The Forest Act, 1927 covers forests and forest management. Availability of forest land in Bangladesh is one of the lowest in the world. Between the 18th and the middle of the 19th century, different parts of Indian forests were subjected to exploitation on a huge scale under the rule of the English east india company and, later, the British government. Forest areas shrank during British rule because of the extension of agriculture. The sundarbans alone shrank by about 1000 sq miles.

By 1864, the conservation of forests in Bengal began with the appointment of a conservator of forests. The first notification reserving forests came on 14 December 1864. By 1872, about 60,000 sq miles of forests were demarcated as reserved forests in Bengal, Bihar, Orissa and Assam.

The Agricultural and Sanitary Improvement Act, 1920 was enacted to consolidate and amend the law relating to the construction of drainage and other works in certain areas. The Agricultural Pests Ordinance, 1962 was promulgated to prevent the spread of agricultural pests in Bangladesh. This law empowered the government to prohibit the employment of any method of cultivation that would spread agricultural pests either generally or with respect to any particular crops. With the same objective the government may also prohibit the transport or sale of any infested crop. The Agricultural Pesticides Ordinance, 1971 aimed at regulating the import, manufacture, sale, distribution and use of pesticides.

The Protection and Conservation of Fish Act, 1950 was adopted to provide for the conservation of fish resources. Under this law the government may for a specified period prohibit the catching, carrying, transporting, offering or exposing or possession for sale or barter of fishes below the prescribed size of any prescribed species throughout Bangladesh or any part thereof.

The Marine Fisheries Ordinance, 1983 covers the territorial waters and economic zone of Bangladesh as declared by the government under the Territorial Waters Maritime Zones Act, 1974, and any other marine waters over which it has, or claims to have, jurisdiction under law with respect to the management, conservation and development of the marine living resources. This law has authorised the government to specify the types, classes and number of fishing vessels that can be deployed in Bangladesh waters having regard to the requirement of fisheries management and development plans. Under Section 28 of the Ordinance the government may declare any area of Bangladesh waters and an adjacent or surrounding land to be a marine reserve.

The Bangladesh Wild Life (Preservation) Order, 1973 deals with game and protected animals. While game animals can be hunted, killed, or captured only subject to the terms and conditions of permits, issued by the relevant authority, protected animals cannot be hunted, killed or captured except for protecting life, crops or livestock. Health and the environment are the concern of a series of acts including the Smoke Nuisances Act, 1905, Juvenile Smoking Act, 1919, Prohibition of Smoking in Show Houses Act, 1952, Brick Burning Act, 1989, Pure Food Ordinance, 1959, Public Parks Act, 1904, and Undesirable Advertisement Control Act, 1952.

Under the Smoke Nuisances Act, 1905, the government may prohibit within any specified area (a) the erection or use of any specified class of brick tile or lime kilns; (b) clamps for making bricks, or the erection or use of furnaces; (c) the smelting of ores or minerals, or the casting, puddling or rolling of iron or other metals, or the conversion of pig iron into wrought iron; (d) the manufacture of coke in ovens or with special appliances; (e) the making of coke without ovens or special appliances. If smoke is emitted from any furnace in greater density, or at a lower altitude, or for a longer time than is permitted by the rules made under this Act, the owner of the furnace shall be liable to a fine which may extend, on a first conviction, to taka 50, on a second conviction to taka 100, and on any subsequent conviction to taka 200. For the enforcement of this law, provision has been made for constituting a commission and appointing a chief inspector of smoke nuisance and assistant inspectors.

The Brick Burning (Control) Act, 1989 requires a licence from the district commissioner for brick burning. The use of any plant in a brick kiln has been prohibited, and any violation may lead to cancellation of the licence, in addition to a fine of fifty thousand taka or six months imprisonment.

The Pure Food Ordinance, 1959 covers food and food related matters. Food means any article used as food or drink for human consumption, other than water or any drug, and includes ice and aerated water and (a) any substance which is intended for use in the composition or preparation of food, (b) any flavouring matter or any spice or condiment and (c) any colouring matter intended for use in food. Section 6 of the Ordinance prohibits trade in adulterated food. Section 19 states that no person shall publish or cause to be published an advertisement which is calculated to mislead the public as to the nature, substance or quality of an article of food.

This Ordinance aims to prevent spread of diseases and states that no person suffering from leprosy, tuberculosis or any other disease which may be notified by the government in this behalf, shall manufacture or sell any article of food, or wilfully touch any such article which is for sale by any other person. One striking aspect of the ordinance is that it recognises the people';s right to question the standard of goods. In other words, consumers have a standing under the Ordinance which states that a person who has purchased any article of food shall, on payment of a prescribed fee, be entitled to have a sample of such an article analysed or otherwise examined by the public analyst appointed for the area in which the purchase was made, and to receive from such a public analyst a certificate in the form provided in the schedule, specifying the result of the analysis or examination.

The Public Parks Act, 1904 applies to any designated public park or garden. It empowers the government to make rules for the management and preservation of any park, and for regulating the use thereof by the public. Such rules may prohibit plucking or gathering of anything growing in the park, breaking trees, branches or plants, cutting names or marks on trees, disfiguring buildings, furniture or monuments, removing or disfiguring labels or marks attached to trees or plants. However, such rules are yet to be formulated for ensuring more open spaces for city dwellers.

The Undesirable Advertisement Control Act, 1952 shall cover any notice, sign, visible representation, announcement, bill, handbill, circular or pamphlet, whether pictorial or otherwise. This Act prohibits any advertisement for the treatment of any venereal disease, sexual disorder, irregularity of menstruation or any other prescribed disease, infirmity or abnormality, or offer to prescribe any remedy there of or give or offer to give any advice in connection with the treatment thereof.

Bangladesh is a signatory to as many as twenty international conventions, treaties, and protocols in connection with the conservation and protection of environment and ecology. Some of them have been ratified. But there are some others which are yet to be ratified. [S Rizwana Hasan]