BEN Newsletter, Vol.5, Nos. 11-13

BEN Newsletter, Vol.5, Nos. 11-13

(March 29, 2009)

[Editor’s Introduction: The nation is celebrating the 38th anniversary of March 26, the Independence Day of Bangladesh. BEN has issued a statement marking the day, and today’s BNL begins in item [1] with this statement.

Item [2] presents a news report on the recent program organized in Pabna by BAPA, in collaboration with local organizations, to save the Chalan Beel. This report shows the far flung level to which BAPA has spread its river and water bodies saving effort.


Unfortunately, at the government level we are yet to see a similar commitment and effort. Item [3] reports on a new TIB study showing that hundreds of acres of river land have been grabbed by vested quarters and hundreds of crores of Taka meant for water projects have been mismanaged and misappropriated. BEN and BAPA hope that the new government will try to make a difference in this regard.


A particular issue that received attention from BEN members recently concerns production and use of nuclear power in Bangladesh. Item [4] reports on the new government’s apparent intention to proceed with the Ruppur nuclear plant. The issue of nuclear energy is however controversial, and BEN energy panel had earlier considered the issue while preparing the BEN Energy report in 2006. BEN has asked its energy panel to revisit the issue in the light of the recent developments and update its assessment and recommendation.


Another important issue that has received attention in recent days concerns the burgeoning ship-breaking industry of the country. Although the industry is helping to generate new employment, it is often proving hazardous for the environment and detrimental to the life and health of workers. Unscrupulous entrepreneurs are often taking the scope of lax environmental and worker safety regulations of the country to import toxic ships for dismantling on the shores of Bangladesh. Item [5] reports on the recent High Court directive to the government to stop ship-breaking until issues concerning safety of environment and workers’ heath are sorted out. This directive came in response to public interest litigation suit by BELA.


Item [6] however reports that the Supreme Court, in response to a petition by the Ship-breaking industry association, has stayed the HC ruling regarding stoppage of ship breaking and has allowed the industry the leave to appeal. However, even the SC ruling implies that now a thorough hearing will be held on the issues, and it may be hoped that these judicial developments will help to bring the ship breaking industry under necessary regulation so that environment and worker safety are not compromised.


This BNL ends in item [7] with a report about a new play (jatra) on the theme of climate change and environment prepared and staged by the Theatre Group of the Independent University of Bangladesh. Use of play (jatra) and other such cultural means to disseminate environmental and climate change message is certainly a very effective idea. BEN congratulates IUB students on their feats, and appreciates their idea. BEN hopes more of such efforts will surface in the future and will help to strengthen the environment movement in the country.


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BEN Message on the occasion of the Independence Day, 2009


Bangladesh Environment Network (BEN), a global network of non-resident Bangladeshis, greets all on the occasion of 26th March 2009, the 38th anniversary of Bangladesh’s Independence Day.


This year the day comes amidst a new fervor to uphold the spirit and values of the Liberation War as well as ominous challenges to them.


Many analysts have observed that a renewed reverence for the Liberation War played an important role in the election of December 28, 2008. One of the manifestations of this reverence is the demand for the trial of the War Criminals and for the containment in Bangladesh politics of the fundamentalist forces who were opposed to independence. It is noteworthy that these rekindled feelings are particularly strong among Bangladesh’s new generation, even though born after the War of Liberation and having learnt about it only from others.


Unfortunately, the rekindling of Liberation War values seems to have led to even more audacious, conspiratorial, and diabolical attempts by the anti-independence forces to destabilize the country and its fledgling democracy. The recent BDR carnage seems to point to the extent to which these forces are ready to go.


The Independence Day of 2009 therefore carries some additional significance. The recent events have made it clear how important it is to complete the tasks that ensued from the victory from the Liberation War. These tasks are not only political, including the trial of the War Criminals. Also important are socio-economic tasks.


One reason why the anti-Liberation forces are able to derive strength is the fact that the pattern of economic development pursued in Bangladesh has led to a bifurcation of the society so that the children of the vast majority are deprived of modern education and are left at the mercy of the obscurantist institutions, which, financed often by reactionary forces abroad, serve as a hotbed for recruitment of soldiers of fundamentalism. It is therefore difficult to uphold the War of Liberation values unless the socio-economic direction of the country is realigned with those values.


On this anniversary, BEN pays homage to all those brave sons and daughters who gave their lives and to all those who suffered in order to convert into reality the Independence that was declared on this day in 1971. BEN urges all pro-independence forces to come forward to make the gains of the Liberation War irreversible by implementing the above mentioned twin political and socio-economic tasks.






Remove embankments, save Boral river and Chalan Beel

Demands human chain in Chatmohar upazila of Pabna


People from cross sections of people have demanded removal of ‘unplanned embankments’ to save Boral River and Chalan Beel, the largest water body in the northern region. They joined a human chain and a discussion on the bank of Boral River in Chatmohar upazila under Pabna district on Saturday afternoon. NGO Chalan Beel Udyog Society in cooperation with Bangladesh Paribesh Andolan (Bapa) organised the programme where a large number of people including teachers, politicians, social workers and journalists took part.


Speakers at the discussion demanded removal of the ‘unplanned’ embankments on the river to help the river regain its normal flow. Boral River originating from the Padma at Charghat point in Rajshahi flows around the Chalan beel areas in Pabna and Natore districts and makes a link among Padma, Jamuna and Chalan Beel. But unplanned embankments, constructed during the 1980s, at places along 120km of Boral River from Charghat of Rajshahi to Nurnagar of Chatmohar point obstructed its natural flow, speakers said. Negative impact on Boral River and Chalan Beel due to man’s immature act also caused immense harm to huge fish resources in the area, they said.


“We have launched a movement demanding removal of the unplanned embankments so that the river can flow easily. It is essential to save Chalan Beel, the largest water body in the northern region,” said SM Mizanur Rahman, executive director of Chalan Beel Udyog Society. Chairman of Chalan Beel Udyog Society Dr Anjon Bhattacharya, veteran politician Babu Gourachandra Sarkar, president of Chatmohar Press Club Helalur Rahman Jewel, schoolteacher Sajahan Ali spoke, among others, on the occasion.


(Source: Daily Star, Monday, March 16, 2009)






800 acres grabbed from 6 rivers

Tk 444cr gobbled up during 2001-06 from water resources ministry, reveals TIB study


Around 800 acres of land in the Buriganga, Shitalakkhya, Karnaphuli, Dakatia, Betna and Surma rivers was grabbed by 1,200 encroachers violating the Wetland Protection Act, 2000. This was revealed by a keynote paper of Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) at a roundtable yesterday mentioning the name of a high-powered inter-ministerial committee, which identified it.


Hatirjheel, Gulshan-Banani-Baridhara Lake and adjoining Buriganga river were also came under encroachment committed by a section of dishonest people from both government and non-government sides, says the keynote paper. The paper adds investigation by the Anti-Corruption Commission is going on into alleged corruption in different projects of the water resources ministry involving around Tk 444 crore between 2001 and 2006.


The roundtable styled “Good Governance in Water Sector: Want Transparency and Accountability” was organised by TIB at the National Press Club. TIB Trustee Board Chairman Prof Muzaffer Ahmad chaired the roundtable, while Executive Director Iftekharuzzaman moderated the programme. Md Rafiqul Islam, programme officer of TIB, presented the keynote paper. The paper made some recommendations to ensure safe and quality water for all.


The recommendations include implementing the water policy, 1999 fast for proper use of water resources, stopping different kinds of irregularities and corruption, especially neglect of duty, encroachment on property, abuse of power, extortion and influence, and giving punishment to them who are involved in irregularities of encroachment on different water bodies including rivers, canals and lakes.


Prof Muzaffer Ahmad said around 1,000 ponds, which were in the city, have now totally disappeared. He added they are trying to recover 13 of the city’s 52 canals but could not succeed so far. He underscored the need for long-term planning and said otherwise it is not possible to save water resources of the country. Prof Muzaffer said different housing companies are launching housing projects on flood flow and sub-flood flow zones which should stop. Suggesting shifting industries from the city to reduce water pollution, he said although there are industrial estates of BISIC at district and upazila levels many industries have been developed in unplanned way in the city.


Vice-chancellor of Rajshahi University of Engineering and Technology Prof Dr M Fazlul Bari said although there are rules and laws to use water resources properly and to save them, there is lack of proper implementation. Director General of Bangladesh Water Development Board Abul Kalam Mohammad Azad said they are working hard to ensure equal distribution of water and its management. To ensure transparency in the work of WDB a strong taskforce was formed by the water resources ministry, he said. Former secretary SM Al Husaini said getting water has to be ensured through short-, middle- and long-term planning.


Executive Director of TIB Iftekharuzzaman, Dr AQM Mahbub of Dhaka University and Chief Engineer of Dhaka City Corporation Ashfaqul Islam, among others, spoke at the roundtable.


(Source: Daily Star, Tuesday, March 24, 2009)






Donors keen to fund N-power plant: PM


Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said yesterday donor countries and agencies have expressed interest in funding nuclear power plants, which would help solve the lingering electricity crisis in the country. The issue came up at the PM’s meeting with a delegation of the Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MCCI) at her office yesterday.


MCCI President Abdul Hafiz Choudhury, who led the 19-member delegation, told The Daily Star, “The prime minister said a nuclear power plant holds out hope for solving the power crisis.” “At the moment, some donor countries and agencies turned in proposals for investment in nuclear power plants,” the MCCI chief said referring to their talks with the premier.


The government has taken an initiative to implement the long-pending Rooppur nuclear power plant, the PM earlier informed parliament on March 4. Meanwhile, the government has prepared a proposal, which mentioned that the nuclear power plant to be set up at Rooppur in the western region of the country will be of 600 MW capacity. At yesterday’s meeting, the MCCI leaders raised the issue of electricity crisis. Hasina said the present crisis would not have affected the country if the last Awami League government could have implemented all its projects.


(Source: Daily Star, Thursday, March 19, 2009)






Ship-breaking ordered shut


The High Court has directed the government to close in two weeks operation of all ship-breaking yards for running without environmental clearance. None of the existing 36 ship-breaking yards, which are identified as category Red [extremely dangerous], has taken or applied for environmental clearance from the government, reveals a report submitted to the court by the Department of Environment. The HC considering the country’s environmental degradation also ordered that no ship would enter Bangladesh territory for breaking without cleaning its hazardous materials at source or outside the territory.


The HC bench of Justice Md Iman Ali and Justice Sheikh Abdul Awal gave the directives following a writ filed by Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA). The court also clearly imposed a bar on any Greenpeace listed toxic ship’s entry into the waters of Bangladesh. The court ordered the DoE to implement the directives within two weeks from receiving the order and directed the government to form a committee to monitor the implementation process. As per the HC order, no ship-breaking operation will take place from now on without environmental clearance. The government has to ensure that ships are broken after safe working condition for the workers is guaranteed and shipyards have appropriate disposal arrangements for hazardous waste and protection of environment. The Court expressing utter dismay has observed that none of the ministries has cooperated to ensure compliance with the environmental laws. Besides, the Department of Shipping has always taken interest in importing more and more ships ignoring public interest, workers’ welfare and environmental protection, the court observed.


The court also directed the ministry of Environment and Forest to frame within three months necessary rules on ship-breaking relying on the obligations of Bangladesh under the Basel Convention, 1989, the Environment Conservation Act, 1995 and the Environment Conservation Rules, 1997. The ministry has been ordered to inform the court after three months the status of framing of the rules.


Some 30,000 workers are engaged in ship scrapping in Chittagong’s Sitakunda, which houses the world’s second largest ship-breaking industry after China. At least 250,000 people in the country live off the industry directly and indirectly, according to experts. Last year 84 vessels were scrapped in Sitakunda. Scrapping a ship takes one month to one and a half months depending on its size. According to an International Labour Organisation report, 551 minor and 42 major accidents took place in the country’s 36 ship-breaking outfits from 1996 to 1998.The recent report of a survey conducted by two internationally reputed organisations, Greenpeace and International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), says on average at least one worker is injured a day and one dies a week. The report styled “The Human Cost of Breaking Ships” published last December simultaneously from Bangladesh, India and Switzerland says at least 1,000 workers died in the last 20 years in Bangladesh’s ship-breaking yards. The figures do not include the deaths from diseases caused by toxic fumes and materials workers are exposed to all the time.


Globally some 700 ships are scrapped a year, mainly in five countries –China, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Vietnam — and some in Turkey too, says a Greenpeace source. With the global fleet growing fast, from 15,000 ships in the 1960s to 62,000 in 2000, and with the ships built before 1970 being sorted out for decommissioning, the number of ships to be condemned for scrapping will also rise in future. The Daily Star carried out reports about all those Greenpeace listed ships even before entering the country’s territory and dismantling.


The lawyers’ association filed the writ in September last year, challenging entry of Greenpeace listed ship MT Enterprise into Bangladesh territory. Earlier, two such ships — MT Alfaship and SS Norway — were however denied entry into Bangladesh waters.


Following the court directives yesterday, BELA in an instant petition sought further judicial intervention for direction upon the government to frame rules and regulate ship-breaking. The association alleged that the government was reluctant in compliance with the earlier judgment pronounced on July 6, 2006 in the case of MT Alfaship by another HC bench. The court also asked the respective respondents to convey the court orders to shipyards by special messengers so that there is no delay in complying with those. The matter will appear for order on April 7 when the DoE will have to inform the court the progress made in closing the non-compliant yards and operation.


The BELA petition was moved by former attorney general Fida M Kamal with assistance from S Rizwana Hasan, Bahreen Khan and Iqbal Kabir.Meanwhile, SM Al Mamun, son of Awami League lawmaker Abul Kashem Master, destroyed 125 acres of Para forest in Sonaichhari, planted 18 years ago, to build a shipyard after the AL came to power.


(Source: Daily Star, Wednesday, March 18, 2009)






Ship-breakers get SC lifeline


The Supreme Court (SC) yesterday stayed for three weeks a part of the High Court (HC) verdict that directed the government to close within two weeks the operation of all ship-breaking yards running without environmental clearance. Upon a petition filed by Bangladesh Ship Breakers’ Association (BSBA), chamber judge of the SC Justice Md Abdul Aziz also asked the petitioner (BSBA) to file a regular leave to appeal with the SC against the HC verdict within three weeks. The HC delivered the verdict on March 17 upon a writ petition filed as a public interest litigation (PIL) by Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers’ Association (BELA).


BELA’s lawyer advocate Iqbal Kabir Litan yesterday told The Daily Star that the SC stayed only the portion of the HC verdict for closing the operation of the ship-breaking yards but it did not stay the full judgment. Rest of the HC directives and observations, including the order that no ship would enter Bangladesh territory for breaking without cleaning its hazardous materials at source or outside the territory, will remain upheld, he said.


The HC in its verdict had imposed a ban on any Greenpeace listed toxic ship’s entry into the waters of Bangladesh. As per the HC order, no ship-breaking operation will take place from now without taking environmental clearance. The government has to make sure that ships are broken under safe working condition while shipyards have appropriate disposal arrangements for hazardous waste and protection of environment. The court also directed the Ministry of Environment and Forest to frame within three months necessary rules on ship-breaking conforming with the obligations of Bangladesh under the Basel Convention, 1989, the Environment Conservation Act, 1995 and the Environment Conservation Rules, 1997. The ministry has been ordered to inform the court after three months the status of framing of the rules. Barrister Rokanuddin Mahmud appeared for BSBA while Barrister Fida M Kamal stood for BELA.


(Source: Daily Star, Tuesday, March 24, 2009)






IUB Theater group stages play on environmental theme

Tropical Paradise makes its debut


“Grishmo Mondolio Swargo” (Tropical Paradise), a ‘jatra’ produced by the Drama Club of Independent University, Bangladesh (IUB), made its stage debut at university’s Bashundhara campus on March 9. Organised by event-management company ‘The Source,’ the play features characters representing a cross-section of people — from students to farmers — who are coming to terms with the concept of climate change.


Based on a story by Abu Noyem Md. Sharif (a student of IUB) and directed by Dr. GM Shahidul Alam (director of the Department of Media and Communication, School of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, who also leads the Drama Club), “Tropical Paradise” opens with a musical soliloquy by a woman playing ‘Mother Nature’ who laments how greed and ignorance have left her battered and bruised. The scene shifts to a college campus where one sees the campus stereotypes, the rocker, the cool dude, the spoiled rich girl, and others. The scene is livened up by the antics of a conceited ‘metrosexual.’


Save the last, the others are complaining about their classes, where their teachers prattle on ad nauseum about topics like global warming, which bores them. The campus nerd then comes forward and tries to convince others that these are weighty matters indeed, and they all decide to take a trip to a village to see nature up close.


The story moves to the village where the old-timers lament the passing of the old ways, loss of the simple lives they once knew, and how the land is becoming infertile and plagued by pests. The villagers then get ready to celebrate a wedding, when a tropical storm destroys their homes. Back at the urban campus, the students are shaken by the scenes of devastation they had seen during their rural trip, and the play concludes with everyone deciding to take an initiative in battling pollution and raising awareness about climate change.


Sponsored by IFC, a member of the World Bank group, the drama is part of a strategy to get the community involved with the climate change issue. IFC has carried out multiple Footprint initiatives in Bangladesh last year to create a buzz around climate change. The play will be staged at participating universities on the following dates: March 9 at IUB, March 11 at NSU, March 12 at EWU, March 14 at ULAB and March 15 at BRAC University.


(Source: Daily Star, Friday, March 13, 2009, report by Sabrina F Ahmad.)

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