Environmental Management System in Bangladesh: A Governance Perspective | daily-sun.com

Environmental Management System in Bangladesh: A Governance Perspective

Despite the positive changes in institutional and legal aspects of the environment, major weakness could be traced in both government and non-governmental organisations engaged in environmental activities. The DOE is especially handicapped due to lack of qualified and trained personnel. The agency is also seriously understaffed specially at the regional levels. All executive or decision making power is concentrated at the top authority. This causes decision-making as well as enforcing of the environmental laws a difficult task.

    24 October, 2017 12:00 AM printer

Environmental Management System in Bangladesh: A Governance Perspective

Bappy Rahman

Bangladesh is very beautiful. The nature of Bangladesh is extremely relaxing, as it not too hot and too cold.

Six seasons in Bangladesh around the year will give one exclusive experience of six new feelings. But the present environmental condition is not at all equilibrium. Severe air, water and noise pollution are threatening human health, ecosystems and economic growth of the country. Air pollution caused due to increasing population, burning fossil fuels, industrialisation and associated motorisation. The water pollution caused due to industrialisation. The underground water of Bangladesh has been polluted due to arsenic. The inhabitants of major cities of Bangladesh are also exposed to high level of noise pollution. Environmental degradation of Bangladesh is also caused due to poverty, over-population and lack of awareness on the subject. It is manifested by deforestation, destruction of wetlands, soil erosion and natural calamities. Few steps have been taken by the government to improve the environmental degradation and pollution control. Civil society plays an important role in protecting environmental degradation. 

Bangladesh faces a number of environmental problems due to its geographical location and setting, high density of population, poor socio-economic development and inefficient resources management and institutional framework. The National Environment Management Action Plan (NEMAP), formulated by the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MOEF) through a nationwide public consultation, identified the major environmental problems facing the country and categorised them into four broad groups which included: sectoral issues, locational and eco-specific issues, long-term issues and institutional issues.

The sectoral problems include natural disaster, water pollution, industrial pollution, deforestation, energy crisis, agro-chemicals and land degradation, decline of fisheries resources, loss of bio-diversity, health and sanitation, air pollution, urban waste generation, inadequate and poor housing, faulty transport system and lack of environment education and awareness. The locational and ecospecific problems include degradation of wetland, hill cutting, salinity and shrimp cultivation, degradation of coastal and marine resources, charland problem, degradation of upland resources. The long-terms issues include climate change and sea level rise, urbanisation, regional water sharing and lack of research and development on the issues. The institutional issue include poor institutional setting, lack of inter sectoral coordination, top-down approach, inadequate local level institution and lack of peoples participation. There has been a lack of institutional mechanism to deal with inter-sectoral issues at national level. The capabilities of the Ministry of Environment and Forest and its line agency including Department of Environment and Department of Forest are still weak and insufficient in the context of huge environmental problems they had to deal with at different levels.

The country report of UNDP (1995) in Bangladesh focuses on the environmental problems of the country. It reported that in the past, the development strategies and programmes in Bangladesh have pursued the economic growth without acknowledging the cost to the environment and the poor people. The result have been undermining of the environment and already fragile natural resource base, up on which a majority of the country’s population directly depend for their livelihood and wellbeing. The growing population of the country puts serious pressure on land, water, forest and other natural resources. The report listed the major environment problems facing the country which include: degradation of land and forest, erosion of soil (riverbank erosion and hill cutting) and decline of soil fertility, air pollution, creeping salinity intrusion, extraction and depletion of ground water, water pollution and water logging, drought, flood and cyclone. Many of the problems have effects/implications on the rural environment and on eco-system; few are urban-environment related.

The Ministry of Environment & Forest (MOEF) is the nodal agency in the administrative structure of the Central Government, for the planning, promotion, co-ordination and overseeing the implementation of environmental and forestry programmes. MOEF oversees all environmental matters in the country and is a permanent member of the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council. The Ministry also plays a pivotal role as a participant of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The principal activities undertaken by Ministry of Environment & Forests consist of conservation & survey of flora, fauna, forests and wildlife, prevention & control of pollution, forestation & regeneration of degraded areas and protection of environment, in the frame work of legislations.

The MOEF consists of two major departments, i.e. the Department of Environment (DOE) and the Department of Forest (DOF). Three institutions, i.e., Bangladesh Forest Industries Development Corporation (BFIDC), Bangladesh Forest Research Institute (BFRI) and Bangladesh National Herbarium (BNH) remain under the control of MOEF.

The Department of Environment (DOE) functions as the technical arm of MOEF. The mandate of DOE is broadly to ensure conservation of the environment, improvement of environmental standard and control and mitigation of environmental pollution. The DOE carries out its responsibilities through a head office and divisional offices under the overall leadership of the Director-General. The head office functions are divided into two broad categories – administration, planning and development and technical. Divisional offices carry out enforcement activities including overall management of environment of the environment supported by laboratory analysis. The major activities of DOE include policy analysis, planning and evaluation, program co-ordinations and monitoring and evaluation.

Department of Forest (DOF) was created way back in 1876 during the British rule of the Indian sub-continent. DOF’s functions include forest resource conservation and management, protection and management of biodiversity and watersheds along with economic and ecological development of the country.

Bangladesh Forest Research Institute (BFRI) was established in 1955 and mandated to provide research support to the Forestry sub-sector of the country, including Forest Department, Bangladesh Forest Industries Development Corporation, NGO and other private enterprises. BFRI’s research activities aim to develop appropriate technologies to maintain sustainable productivity of forest land and of forest industries without resource depletion. Bangladesh National Herbarium is a plant survey, collection, identification and conservation organisation. It documents the plant biological diversity of the country and its collections are accessible samples of natural population. The collection of the herbarium is a national property that goes down to the posterity through generation for hundreds of years and work as reference materials on the flora of the country. The National Herbarium serves as repository of technical information on plant genetic resources and advises the Government on technical aspects of question dealt with by the herbarium.

Bangladesh Forest Industries Development Corporation (BFIDC) has mandated to rubber plantation, processing and has also mandate to extract timber from inaccessible Forest areas. After sawing, Seasoning and treatments, these timbers are used in wood based industries for production of quality furniture, electric poles, anchor logs, cross arms, railway slippers, doors & windows, woodtex, tea chest and plywood etc.

In pursuance of the Stockholm mandate, the government of Bangladesh, like all other developing and developed countries, actively participated in the evolutionary process of protecting global environment. As a result, the first Water Pollution Control Ordinance was promulgated in 1973 followed by the promulgation of the Environment Pollution Control Ordinance in 1977. The Government of Bangladesh has also adopted a number of supplementary policies where environment and development issues have been addressed. Important policy documents in this respect are National Environment Policy, 1992, National Environmental Management Action Plan (NEMAP), 1992, Environmental Conservation Act of 1995, Sustainable Environment Management Project (SEMP) etc.

The Government of Bangladesh formulated an Environment Policy in 1992. The objectives of Environment Policy are to: maintain ecological balance and overall development through protection and improvement of the environment; protect the country against natural disasters; identify and regulate activities which pollute and degrade the environment; ensure environmentally sound development in all sectors; ensure sustainable, long term and environmentally sound use of all national resources; and, actively remain associated with all international environmental initiatives to the maximum possible extent.

National Environment Management Action Plan (NEMAP) carried out in different countries is described as an in-country process to provide a framework for integrating environmental consideration into economic and social development. The process is demand driven, based on local consideration and action oriented in that it produces a time-bound plan of action. The NEMAP in Bangladesh has been prepared by the Ministry of Environment and Forest with inputs from all sections of peoples including NGOs, academics, parliamentarians, lawyers, journalists and grass-roots men and women. The action plan is a synthesis of the perception of the government and the people of Bangladesh regarding environmental issues and measures that are needed to protect the environment. It is built on the general principles set out in the National Environment policy. The NEMAP process has led to the identification of the environmental problems and their solutions through concrete actions. In a major step to translate NEMAP into the real life, the government has launched the Sustainable Environment Management project (SEMP) with assistance from UNDP since 1998.

The Environmental Conservation Act of 1995 empowered the MOEF to formulate rules and guidelines for the management. It also designates DOE to be responsible for enforcing the 1997 EIA procedures air pollution, water pollution, noise. Bangladesh adopted Environment Conservation Rules (ECR) in 1997. ECR made it mandatory for all industries to carry out environmental impact assessment (EIA). Under ECR all industries are to install waste/pollutant treatment plants, conform to environmental quality standards, report accidents or unforeseen discharge of pollutants and take remedial measures.

Government enacted Environment Court Act in 2000. The act is passed to establish Environment Court for speedy disposal of cases concerning environmental offences as defined in the Environmental Law. The current national Forest Policy was promulgated in 1994. The Forest Policy of 1994 is elaborate and for the first time clearly incorporates the participatory forestry concept. It provides opportunities for cooperation between NGOs and government agencies in social forestry.

Although the parliament is the sole authority for enacting laws and the Ministry of Environment along with the Department of Environment (DOE) play a major role in enforcing the laws, the civil society and NGOs show an increasing interest in the environment. The views and opinions of civil society and NGOs are now given more importance by the government. The Association of Development Agencies in Bangladesh (ADAB), a federation of NGOs and voluntary associations, is committing itself to various environmental activities. Because of its grass roots network across the country, ADAB has the advantage of mobilizing the community towards environmental activities. The formulation of NEMAP and its follow-up actions through SEMP are, to a great extent, driven by the NGOs and civil society unlike other development programs. Some large NGOs have set up environment cells within their organisation structure. A number of big Bangladeshi NGOs have earned worldwide reputation for their success in community-based programs directed at poverty alleviation and human resource development. More recently, NGOs working in the field of the environment have united themselves under the banner of Coalition of Environmental NGOs (CEN) for better coordination and concerted actions on key environmental issues. The CEN publishes newsletters to highlight environmental issues to raise awareness of the citizens. Other civil organisations and NGOs working for environment include Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA) and Forum of Environmental Journalist Association of Bangladesh (FEJB). BELA filed a number of public litigations against the government on environmental ground that resulted in a positive impact on environmental protection. Many national and local newspapers and periodicals have introduced “environmental page” on a regular basis. Televisions and radios are also engaged in broadcasting environmental issues of national and global implications. The civil societies and NGOs have established effective linkages with the regional and international agencies including the UN Bodies like ESCAP, UNEP, and UNDP for implementing environmental programmes including training, workshops, seminar etc. on a collaborative basis. The research and educational institutions provide important information and policy guidelines to the government, civil society, NGOs on environmental issues. The recently launched Bangladesh Environment Network (BEN) is a grand forum of individuals and institutions representing the academicians, scientists, engineers, researchers, NGOs, civil society from the country and expatriate Bangladeshis engaged in academic research in the developed world.

Strengthening accountability is an essential governance mechanism for environmental outcomes. Accountability refers to that individuals, agencies and organisations (public, private and civil society) are held responsible for executing their powers properly. They should take on responsibility for what they do and how they do it. More traditional forms of accountability, such as monitoring, enforcement and sanctions, are good complements to transparency and participation. If, for instance, a service is not delivered or holds inadequate quality, such as a water supplier providing irregular or poor quality services, the consumer of that service should be able to file complaints towards the service provider and the complaints should lead to some kind of response. Often, however, there is no direct accountability of the provider to the consumer. Instead, the accountability is indirect, through citizens influencing policymakers, and policymakers influencing providers. When private companies fail as providers of public services it is ultimately the public authority that is responsible and should be held accountable.

Natural resources, particularly agricultural land, subsoil minerals, timber and other forest resources, are economically and socially significant in developing and transition countries, and make up a relatively large share of the national wealth. Governance is intricately linked to natural resources.  Paradoxically, natural resource rich countries typically shows lower levels of socio-economic development, are less diversified, less transparent, subject to greater economic volatility, more oppressive and more prone to corruption and internal conflicts, compared to non-endowed countries at similar income levels.  This is often referred to as the “resource curse”. If, for instance, access to high value mineral resources is controlled by fractions and elitist groups, the risks for conflict and corruption escalate. Once the mineral resources are captured, government and politics are also captured and the resources can form the basis of political patronage with few benefits for the poor. Even without conflicts, volatile world market prices can generate boom and bust circles that can destabilize the economy and negatively affect growth. Furthermore, large foreign exchange earnings from natural resource exports reduce the competitiveness of other economic sectors. Budget transparency is a central feature of good governance. Non-transparent budget processes or revenues, off-budget activities, and poorly managed expenditure systems, makes it hard for the public to monitor budget allocation and implementation.

The national government is often influential when it comes to legislation, formulation of policies and strategies, and defining objectives and targets. While this is a necessary requirement, the implementation of the policies and legislation often rests with local governments. The central role of the local government is a key characteristic of public service delivery (including waste management, water and sanitation), and a strong local leadership is critical. The services are often provided by private sector actors, which require new forms of governance that stresses horizontal decision-making through partnerships and networks that involve a wide range of actors.

Corruption challenges associated with Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) could affect important elements, such as the establishment of baselines, selection of sites for inclusion in programmes, issuing of land certificates, or monitoring of avoided emissions. Other risks are, as mentioned above, related to the financial resources. Improving governance such as participatory and transparent monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) mechanisms, third party monitoring of forest management activities or independent auditing, could reduce corruption risks.

Good governance in general, including fight against corruption and promotion of accountable and transparent institutions, is very likely to benefit also the management of natural resources. Indonesia has lately been working hard to curb corruption, for instance through granting the Corruption Eradication Commission of Indonesia (KPK) considerable investigative powers and capacity.  Good governance generally improves management of natural resource and implementation of environmental legislation. It can also work the other way around: concerns for environmental governance can have spin-off effects and contribute to improved democratic governance at a more general level.

The Environmental Conservation Rule ’97 (ECR’97) has set Environmental Quality Standard (EQS) to ambient quality of air, water, noise and odor. All specified limits for a range of parameters that, except for odor, are dependent on the anticipated use of the local environment. In addition, the ECR’97 establishes a series of emissions, discharge and noise standards for particular activities. The discharge standards fixed in ECR’97 are less stringent compared to other developed and developing countries in view of the needs for industrial promotion given the low income level, high unemployment and poverty situation in Bangladesh.

As per the relevant clauses of the ECA’95 and ECR’97, all existing and proposed industrial units are required to obtain ‘Environmental Clearance Certificate (ECC)’ from the DOE. In order to facilitate the process of issuing the ECC, all industries are classified into four categories viz: Green, Orange –A, Orange-B and Red. The issuance of ECC requires environmental screening or environmental impact assessment (EIA) depending on the type of industries following the guidelines of the DOE.

However, the organisational and institutional reforms especially the creation of the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MOEF) and the up gradation of the Department of Environment (DOE) are an important step to strengthen the environment related organisational framework of the country. The enacting of the relevant laws and rules for conservation and protection of the environment provides legal strength to the concerned organisations. Moreover, growing importance is now attached to environmental issues which are increasingly being incorporated to development plans by the Planning Commission, the central planning authority of the Bangladesh Government. The emergence of civil society groups and NGOs and their active participation in the environmental area is a positive step to further streamlining of the environmental activities in the country.

Despite the positive changes in institutional and legal aspects of the environment, major weakness could be traced in both government and non-governmental organisations engaged in environmental activities. The DOE is especially handicapped due to lack of qualified and trained personnel. The agency is also seriously understaffed specially at the regional levels. All executive or decision making power is concentrated at the top authority. This causes decision-making as well as enforcing of the environmental laws a difficult task.

The writer is an Assistant Professor, Department of Public Administration, Jagannath University, Dhaka.
The author acknowledges with gratitude the different sources of information.