Green activists yesterday demanded that the government keep all kinds of industrial and haphazard human activities away from the ecologically critical area (ECA) of the Sundarbans.
Activities such as cutting woods, poaching and building establishments inside the critical area should not be allowed, they added.
Bangladesh declared the 10-kilometre periphery of the mangrove forest as the ECA in 1999, a couple of years after the Unesco listed the Sundarbans as a natural world heritage site.
As per Bangladesh Environment Conservation Act 1995 (amended in 2010), no one is allowed to set up any factory in the ECA.
The ECA is the shield and protector of the Sundarbans, they said at a press conference. The National Committee to Save the Sundarbans and Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (Bapa) organised it at Dhaka Reporters' Unity.
However, going against its own policy, the government over the last few years permitted setting up of 190 industrial and commercial units in the ECA, which, according to experts, poses a serious threat to the biodiversity of the world's largest mangrove forest.
Twenty-four of those units belong to the “red category”, meaning those are extremely harmful to the fragile biodiversity of the Sundarbans, said rights activist Sultana Kamal.
The worrisome point is that recently an amendment has been made in the related law to legitimise those “red category” units and declare them “green” or “environment friendly”, she said, reading a written statement.
“Changing scientific decisions… through such an administrative order is a rare incident,” she added. She demanded saving the Sundarbans from manmade “torment”.
“We are stunned and concerned about such an arbitrary decision,” she said. After the changes, these 24 “red category” units will not have to show any Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), she added.
EIA is a comprehensive assessment method of analysing environmental issues that are primarily or secondarily related to the planning, implementation, operation and maintenance stages of a project for sustainable development. EIA analyses the project from the environmental point of view.
Sultana said those industries will not have to explain what measures they have taken to control pollution or inform the authorities about waste management.
She demanded a logical explanation from the government regarding the changes.
Responding to a query, she said green activists will continue their movement to protect the world's largest mangrove forest and to stop building ecologically harmful establishments such as the Rampal Power Plant near it.
Sultana, also convener of the National Committee to Save the Sundarbans, urged all conscious citizens to join the movement.
Bapa General Secretary Abdul Matin said there were also other categories in between the “red” and “green” ones. However, the government declared the “red category” industrial units “green” overlooking other possibilities, he added.
Under the ECA and ECR (environment conservation rules), for the purpose of issuance of Environmental Clearance Certificate, the industrial units and projects have been classified under four categories: Green, Orange A, Orange B and Red.
The category is based on the location and its impact on the environment.
Save the Sundarbans Foundation President Sheikh Faridul Islam said the government should work as per law. It should not give any privilege to any section.
Bapa Joint Secretary Sharif Jamil said the process of turning “red category” industries into “green” ones is a “policy-level corruption”.