When development initiatives cut down forest, seize rivers and ponds, diminish air quality, deplete natural resources, threaten wildlife, and contaminate water in rivers and the Bay of Bengal, etc., the effectiveness of environmental laws and policies is questioned. Several laws deal with environmental protection in Bangladesh. In addition, procedural obligations such as the requirement to obtain an Environmental Clearance Certificate under Section 12 of the Environment (Conservation) Act 1995 of Bangladesh and Rules 6 and 7 of the Environmental Rules of 1997 guarantee the principles of environmental procedure. These procedural principles ultimately drive economic development towards sustainability. However, some pertinent questions remain: are Bangladesh’s environmental laws effective?
Strong institutions are crucial for implementation. With regard to the environment, responsibilities have been conferred on the Department of the Environment (DoE) under the 1995 Act, but other institutions also have corresponding responsibilities under various laws. Therefore, the institutional strength and independence of the DoE is weakening day by day.
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Many laws and rules do not guarantee a sound legal regime, but rather create chaos and disorder. Another problem is the fragmentation of environmental laws and regulations in Bangladesh. With the same subject, there are two or more laws, and each law excludes other applicable laws. Thus, law enforcement becomes slow and unresponsive to the needs of the times.
It should be noted that Goal 15 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) offers a holistic approach that protects, restores and promotes the sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manages forests, combats desertification, halts and reverses degradation land and halt the loss of biodiversity. Bangladesh Voluntary National Reviews, 2020 of SDGs shows that progress towards achieving Goal 15 is slower than other goals. In recent years, a large amount of forest land has been lost due to the settlement of Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazaar, development projects in the Hill Tracts, agricultural farms, etc. This shows that the development of Bangladesh repeatedly contradicts sustainable development. principles. As target 15 emphasizes ecosystem-based management to ensure the principle of sustainable development, mere protection of the environment under the laws and regulations of Bangladesh mentioned above does not guarantee the improvement of environment in Bangladesh. Ecosystem-based management covers all aspects of the environment. Despite the strengthening of the environmental institution and the enforcement of environmental laws and rules, the holistic approach, i.e. the principle of ecosystem-based management, needs to be taken more into account by Bangladesh.
Although Bangladesh has a law, namely the Biodiversity Act 2017, development policy should also shift from mere protection of the environment to protection, restoration and promotion of terrestrial, coastal and sailor from Bangladesh as a whole. The protection, restoration and promotion of the ecosystem are beneficial in many ways: an ecologically balanced environment can provide the best service to the people of Bangladesh, as such when natural resources will be enriched, the quality of air will be improved, temperature will be moderate, ground water will be abundant, all rivers will flow steadily and so on. Article 31 of the 2017 law provides how to protect, promote and use bioresources sustainably. The provision takes into account the “In-Situ and Ex-Situ” methods which are also approved worldwide. According to this provision, the government of Bangladesh must identify any area enriched with biodiversity and declare it for conservation by an in situ or ex situ method. Although this law is a source of hope and inspiration, there is no specific institutional arrangement for carrying out all the functions under the law. In this respect, the main institution, the DoE, does not play an active role under this law. It shows that there is a lack of harmonization between environmental laws and that the role of the DoE has also been shown to be inactive.
The combination and harmonization of all environmental laws, rules, regulations and guidelines are necessary to achieve sustainable development. The DoE under the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change should be active in harmonizing and directing all functions within the framework of laws and regulations.
The author is a lecturer in law at Dhaka International University.