Green activists and environmentalists have raised concerns over a recent amendment to the Bangladesh Environment Conservation (amendment) Act 2010 that has made it easier for LPG factories to operate in the vicinity of the Sundarbans.
According to the Department of Environment (DoE), seven liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) bottling industries and a LPG cylinder industry are currently running their operations in the ecologically critical zone area adjacent to the world’s largest mangrove forest. The government has recently issued permission to 16 more companies to set up LPG factories in the area.
According to a December 27, 2017 gazette notification released by the Ministry of Environment and Forest, LPG bottling plants, LPG cylinder plants, solar plants, and bio-fertilizer factories will be considered as Green industries.
The 24 LPG factories, which were earlier classified in the Red category, have now been put into the Green category. And as per the amended law, the factories will no longer need to comply with eight vital conditions, including the environmental impact assessment (EIA) report, while launching new ventures.
Slating the move, environmentalists alleged that the definition of hazardous industries was changed to provide undue benefits to influential quarters including businesses and politicians.
“It is very clear that the government has amended the act only to accommodate hazardous industries near the mangrove forest,” said Syeda Rizwana Hasan, chief executive of Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers’ Association.
Echoing her, Prof Ainun Nishat, a water resource and climate change specialist and a former vice-chancellor of Brac University, said: “LPG is an environment friendly fuel compared with other petrochemicals. But, the problem lies in its transportation, processing, and bottling process.
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“Given these risks, those industries should be put on the Red list. Therefore, environmental impact assessment should always be there as a prerequisite for setting up such factories.”
However, speaking to the Dhaka Tribune, Ishtiaq Ahmed, then secretary to the Ministry of Environment and Forest, who signed the notification, said: “We brought necessary changes in the act in accordance with recommendations of the DoE and after analyzing methods followed by other countries in setting up LPG factories.
“In fact, we did not change the definition of hazardous industries; rather, we redefined them. For instance, there was no mention of LPG in the previous version of the act. It was mentioned as industrial gas. Therefore, we inserted a provision about LPG into the law.”
Currently, there are at least 190 different types of industries, including the under-construction ones, on the periphery of the forest.
An area of 10 km width from the boundary of the Sundarbans to the inland is known as ecologically critical area, where the industrial belt has grown up.