Going against its own policy, the government over the last few years permitted setting up of 190 industrial and commercial units in the ecologically critical area (ECA) of the Sundarbans, which, according to experts, poses a serious threat to the biodiversity of the world's largest mangrove forest.
Bangladesh declared the 10-kilometre periphery of the mangrove forest as the ECA in 1999, a couple of years after the Unesco listed it 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.
Of the industrial units, 181 had obtained the environment clearance certificate and the other nine the site clearance certificate from the Department of Environment (DoE) over the last several years, according to a DoE report submitted to the High Court yesterday.
At least 24 of the units fall under the “red category”, meaning those are extremely harmful to the fragile biodiversity of the Sundarbans, Deputy Attorney General Motaher Hossain Sazu told this newspaper, quoting from the report.
These are releasing industrial smog and discharging liquid waste and saline water, the report mentioned.
The 190 industrial and commercial units include manufacturing plants for cement, LPG gas and gas cylinder, oil refinery, betel nut processing plants, ship building yards, rice husking and saw mills, brick kilns, cigarette and ice factories, fish and crab farms, hatcheries, saline water refinery, and welding factory.
Some restaurants, and brush and car seat manufacturing factories are also on the list of the establishments in nine upazilas of Bagerhat, Khulna and Satkhira.
Most of the heavy and harmful industrial units are located in Mongla industrial and Mongla port areas, the report pointed out.
According to the DoE, 154 industrial units are now in operation while 36 are closed.
The DoE submitted the report in line with an HC order given around seven months ago.
The HC on August 24 last year directed the government not to renew environmental clearance certificate of any industry within 10-km periphery of the Sundarbans and to submit a list of the establishments already set up in the area.
It gave the order after Save the Sundarbans Foundation President Sheikh Faridul Islam filed a writ petition on August 22, seeking court directives on the authorities concerned to relocate the factories built in the ECA.
Yesterday, an HC bench comprising Justice Moyeenul Islam Chowdhury and Justice Md Ashraful Kamal fixed May 9 for passing further order on the matter.
Talking to The Daily Star, Syeda Rizwana Hasan, chief executive of Bangladesh Environment Lawyers Association, said that according to the law, nobody is allowed to set up any factory in the ECA.
“The government should immediately relocate all those industrial units from the ecologically critical area,” she said.
Asked, Abdul Matin, member-secretary of the National Committee to Protect the Sundarbans, said, all these industrial units around the forest are badly damaging its biodiversity.
“So many commercial activities are going on in and around the Sundarbans. The red category factories are discharging toxic substances in the ecologically critical area. Such factories will eventually destroy the mangrove forest,” he said, demanding that the government immediately shift all those establishments.
The much-talked-about Rampal power plant is not on the DoE list as it is located around 14 km away from the edge of the Sundarbans.
However, experts fear that the coal-fired plant will cause serious damage to the forest once it goes into operation.
On June 06 last year, the government published a gazette on the ECA mouza to facilitate sustainable management of the ecology in the zone.