Bangladesh plans new court to take on polluters
DHAKA (Reuters) - Bangladesh has proposed the setting up of an environment court with powers to jail polluters for up to five years, officials said Tuesday.
They said the plan was endorsed by the cabinet at a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Monday, and would soon be put before parliament for approval.
Any citizen would be allowed to file a case in the court -- with its headquarters in Dhaka and branches across the country. Targets could include factory owners and builders who illegally grab land and waterways.
All four of Bangladesh's major rivers, including the Buriganga that provide a lifeline to millions of people in and around Dhaka, have been heavily polluted by industrial and human waste, killing fish and leaving the water unfit for use.
Environmental protection groups have made a series of protests in recent years against such abuses of waterways, while city planners have demanded the reclamation of dozens of canals and parks that had bee illegally occupied and built over.
The proposed court would have the power to jail offenders for up to five years and impose half a million taka ($7,000) fine, said Abul Kalam Azad, press secretary to the prime minister.
Bangladesh already has an environmental protection law with options for lesser punishments but it has been little used, officials said.
"It is a good initiative to have a court with wider powers to save the endangered environment," said Syeda Rizwana Hasan, leader of Bangladesh Environment Lawyers Association. "But how effective it will be remains to be seen."
Others said prosecuting land grabbers and polluters has often been difficult in the past because of widespread corruption.
Pollution is growing alarmingly in Bangladesh, one of the world's most densely populated countries with more than 150 million people. Health officials and doctors say millions of Bangladeshis suffer from pollution-related ailments.
A World Bank study last year said four major rivers near the capital Dhaka receive 1.5 million cubic meters of waste water every day from 7,000 industrial units along their banks and another 0.5 million cubic meters from other sources.
According to the Air Quality Management Project (AQMP), funded by the Bangladesh government and the World Bank, an estimated 15,000 premature deaths, as well as several million cases of pulmonary, respiratory and neurological illness are attributed to poor air quality in Dhaka.
The Department of Environment said the density of airborne particulate matter (PM) reaches 463 micrograms per cubic meter (mcm) in Dhaka city during the dry season (December-March) -- the highest level recorded anywhere in the world.
(Reporting by Azad Majumder; Writing by Anis Ahmed; Editing by Alex Richardson)
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