Bangladesh’s air quality has been the worst in the world for two years in a row — a worrying development that will only become more acute if strict measures are not taken now such as specific legislation to check the menace.
But the government’s stance on checking the menace appears to be half-hearted at best: it set out to enact a requisite act to ensure cleaner air but took a detour mid-way.
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The act has now been converted to rules, which stipulate two years’ imprisonment and Tk 2 lakh fine for emitting harmful substances into the air.
“An act is robust but the rules are not — it is just more stringent,” said Syeda Rizwana Hasan, chief executive of the Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA).
In 2019, BELA helped the Department of Environment draft the Clean Air Bill, about eight years after the World Bank had recommended one.
An act would be enacted through the parliament with a separate entity to execute it. The entity will be held responsible for failing to make the act effective.
But rules can remain ineffective if a clause contradicts any other law. “The rules would be treated as an additional duty of DoE.”
Hasan went on to cite the case of China that have managed to fight air pollution after adopting the Air Pollution Control Act in 2013. Between 2013 and 2019, there has been a 29 percent drop in particulate matter pollution on average in China.
“The quality of air has been dropping each year — there is no scope to sit idle,” she added.
Kamruzzaman Majumder, chairman of the Department of Environmental Science at Stamford University and also the founder of the Centre for Atmospheric Pollution Studies, echoed the same.
With the level of air pollution that Bangladesh faces, an act was the need of the hour, he said.
The law ministry initially accepted the bid for a separate clean air bill, said Saber Hossain Chowdhury, chairman of the parliamentary standing committee on the environment, forest, and climate change ministry.
But the cabinet division was in favour of rules under the existing law.
“A law is always superior to rules. However, even if rules are executed strictly, there will be a change in the current condition of our air,” Chowdhury added.
Majumder echoed the same.
“If the rules are executed firmly, it will bring relief to some extent.”
WHAT’S IN THE RULES
The law ministry is now sitting on the draft of the ‘Clean Air Rules’ under the Environment Conservation Act-1995. Once vetted, the rule will come into effect through a gazette notification.
A National Executive Council (NEC) would be formed. The 26-member council will be empowered to advise, instruct and recommend the ministries, directorates, organisations, establishments and individuals to control air pollution.
The NEC will be comprised of three director-generals, six chairmen of government organisations, 13 senior secretaries of 13 ministries, according to the rules. The Daily Star has a copy of the rules.
The cabinet secretary and additional secretary (pollution control) of the environment ministry will lead the council as convener and member secretary respectively.
The NEC can recommend the restriction of people’s outdoor movement, the closure of industries, schools and colleges in particular towns, regions and cities in consideration of air pollution levels.
The draft says the DoE will alert people if the air quality verges on extremely unhealthy levels as well as encourage people to take cautionary measures.
It proposed conferring awards to individuals and establishments that help in reining in air pollution by their actions.
The director-general of the DoE can direct the potential source of air pollution including industries and projects to set up air quality monitoring mechanisms. Those will be connected to the central monitoring system of the DoE.
The rules also have provisions for measuring the emission level of vehicles during licence renewal. The DoE can recommend the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority prevent polluting vehicles from plying on the road.
The law ministry will take the necessary steps to make the rules effective, Abdul Hamid, the director-general of the DoE, told The Daily Star.
Asked why the DoE went for rules instead of an act, Hamid hung up the phone.