The draft suggests the DoE shall prepare a time-bound National Air Quality Management Plan
The draft of “clean air act-2019” proposes that the government announce the names of critical areas in regard to the Air Quality Index (AQI), and the head of any government entity be held responsible for violating the law.
Section 7 of the law says that the government may declare an area as a critical (non-attainment) or special control one if air quality deteriorates in the particular area or it needs specific attention to get rid of the situation.
According to section 27 of the draft, if an offence is committed by any government agency, its head will be considered guilty of the violating the law, and held liable to face punishment accordingly.
Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers’ Association (BELA) and Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) prepared the draft law and presented it at a workshop at a Dhaka hotel on Thursday.
The draft mentioned that the Department of Environment (DoE) shall prepare a time-bound National Air Quality Management Plan within one year of the law coming into effect.
It also proposes constituting a 29-member advisory council with representatives from different ministries and departments, to oversee and make recommendations to implement the plan.
Discussing the law, BELA Executive Chairman Syeda Rizwana Hasan proposed the provision of a maximum penalty of 10 years jail time or fine or both as the punishments for violating the law.
However, the draft appears to be a little lenient for those who will be found guilty in the first offence, as it suggests an imprisonment of less than two years for a first-time offender.
Rizwana said: “The law is aimed at improving air quality in the country, especially in Dhaka and its surrounding areas. It is not punishment-oriented.”
She said: “There are complaints that only the private sector is to be blamed and punished for air pollution, not the government agencies.
“But now, there are changes in the law, as has added the provision to punish the government organizations accused of air pollution as well.”
The government is reluctant to enlist “critical areas”, something they want to be declared, she insisted, demanding that Dhaka and Gazipur be dubbed as critical areas soon due to their poor air quality.
Rizwana urged the government to increase manpower of the DoE, otherwise taking strict and prompt measures against the air polluters will remain tough.
Speakers’ opinion about the draft
Addressing as the chief guest, Environment, Forest and Climate Change Minister Md Shahab Uddin said continuing development by up-keeping environment is a great challenge.
“If we cannot ensure both, we will lag behind in attaining the sustainable development goals by 2030,” he said, recounting that preventing air pollution was a major pledge in the Awami League election manifesto.
In her speech as the special guest, Deputy Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change Habibun Nahar, said, countless setting up of brick kilns and unplanned construction are two major contributors to air pollution.
“A lot of the brick kilns have been built without necessary clearance from the government agencies concerned. A highly volatile industrialization, too, is also to be blamed for the situation,” she added.
Saber Hossain Chowdhury, president of Parliamentary Standing Committee on the ministry, said despite progressing in all sectors, Bangladesh is falling behind in terms of environment.
“Environment degradation will not let advancement be sustainable,” he warned, adding, “The law is not enough; it has to be imposed properly.”
Saber suggested that the draft law be tabled in the House as a bill by March.
The workshop was held in a day when Dhaka, according to AirVisual, an AQI developed by United States Environmental Protection Agency, ranked among the world’s cities with the worst air quality, with its air termed “unhealthy.”
A World Health Organization (WHO) report, published in 2016, said over 37,000 Bangladeshis die annually from diseases related to air pollution.
5 important aspects of the draft law
Section-6 proposes that the DoE prepares a National Air Quality Management Plan within one year of the law coming into effect.
Section 7 says the government may declare an area as “critical” if air quality deteriorates there or if it needs specific attention to get rid of the situation.
Section 11 of the draft proposes constituting a 29-member advisory council with representatives from different ministries and departments to oversee and make recommendations to implement the plan.
Section 25 suggests the provision of a maximum penalty 10 years imprisonment or fine or both as the punishments for violating the law
Section 27 says if an offence is committed by any government agency, its head will be considered guilty of the violating the law, and liable to face punishment accordingly.