In this modern era, it is undoubtedly true that energy becomes an inalienable part of our day to day life, and we become extremely dependent on it.
Moreover, energy is crucial for the overall development of the country and empowerment of the people as well. Contemporary technologies make us more energy dependent day by day. Hence, universal access to energy for all is not only essential to ensuring a continuous spin of the wheel of development, but also to enhance the standard of living for the nation.
Sadly, the Least Developed Country (LDC) Report 2017 released by the UN in November says the government can’t spread electricity to more than one-third of the country -- a low among all the Asian LDCs, whereas access to sufficient, regular, safe, reliable, affordable energy resources is key to eradicating poverty and ensuring social inclusion.
Bangladesh is an energy deficient country which cannot fulfill ITS demand yet. But demand is increasing every day, and the government is failing to produce and distribute the expected amount of energy in precise electricity due to many factors.
Although Bangladesh has taken several initiatives to increase the production of electricity over the past decade, all of these obstacles collectively make a challenge for the country to reach the Sustainable Development Goals of universal access to modern energy by 2030.
However, universal access to energy is not only a human right itself, rather it is interconnected with other basic rights, eg the right to life, food, health, shelter, education. Nevertheless, there is no express legally enshrined guarantee of access to energy in all its aspects by the state in this country.
That does not mean the government can avoid its obligation to make energy accessible to all. Nowadays, reasonable and effective access to energy services is regarded as a human right worldwide. Although there is no precise provision, the interpretation of existing legal instruments and the constitution can oblige the state to treat it as a basic human right.
The human right to universal access to energy is also not specifically recognised in international human rights instruments adopted by different organisations. Despite that, several leading international organisations have formulated legally binding instruments referring the right to get access to energy either directly or indirectly.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) of 1948 recognises numerous rights which are highly intertwined with access to energy and unachievable without adequate access to energy services. For example, the right to standard living, the right to work under satisfactory conditions, and even right to education are impossible without proper access to energy.
But demand is increasing every day, and the government is failing to produce and distribute the expected amount of energy
Moreover, the socio-economic destination fixed by the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) of 1966 will be turned into only a far-reaching text on white paper if we cannot establish access to energy as a right.
Without ensuring access to energy, how can we guarantee the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health enumerated in Article 12 of the ICESCR?
Furthermore, energy is heavily entwined with other basic human rights, and in most cases, a pre-requisite to fulfill other rights. Other mentionable international documents like the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, the American Convention on Human Rights, the African Charter of Human and People’s Rights, the Johannesburg Declaration on Sustainable Development, the UN Declaration on the Right to Development, the Stockholm Declaration on the Human Environment state improvement and protection of various human rights through universal access to energy.
Bangladesh is a state party to many of these conventions, and thereby bound to fulfill all the obligations imposed by them.
Both the fundamental principles of state policy and the fundamental rights chapters of the constitution contain provisions which are heavily dependent on universal and effective access to energy. Article 15 of the constitution entails a number of rights essential for the realisation of the right to an adequate standard of living, including access to adequate food, clothing, housing, and living conditions.
The same article also imposes responsibility on the state to ensure decent work conditions which are inalienable with proper access to energy. Additionally, Article 16 focuses on rural and agricultural development while universal access to energy is most effective and crucial instrument to bringing positive changes in this sector.
However, the present situation is highly discriminatory, with half of the rural population without access to electricity. On the other hand, 84% of urban inhabitants get electricity, though the rate is still unsatisfactory compared to the world average.
This is a constitutional obligation upon the state and an enforceable right by the court. So, there is no scope of evading this responsibility by claiming that there is no specific provision on the right to get access to energy.
Rather, if we consider the whole notion of the constitution, then it is evident that the aim of the constitution is to gradually enhance the standard of living of the people of this republic.
It is a fact that our resources are limited; so we should progressively make modern energy services available to the whole population, including those most underprivileged.
Raisul Islam Sourav is a Chevening Scholar 2017-18, now pursuing LLM in International Energy Law and Policy at the University of Stirling, UK, an Assistant Professor of Law at Dhaka International University, and a Legal Researcher and Rights Activist.