THE government is going to set up a coal-fired thermal power plant in Rampal, which is near the Sundarbans. Many environment experts are protesting against the project as it will certainly affect our beautiful and precious asset, the Sundarbans, the world's largest mangrove forest.
The power plant will ruin the ecological balance and biodiversity of the Sundarbans. Apart from harmful substances, it will also release huge amounts of hot water that will destroy the freshwater dolphins and various species of fish in the water bodies surrounding the Sundarbans.
Environmentalists, locals and conscious people started protesting against the proposed power plant from the very beginning, and are still determined to protect the Sundarbans from destruction.
Let's see the legal point of view. Very simply, law is for the protection of public interest and public welfare. As the project will certainly harm public interest and public welfare, it must be unlawful. This is the core essence of law.
The Bangladesh Environment Conservation Act, 1995 has provisions relating to protection and development of the environment, and control and mitigation of environmental pollution. Section-2 of this Act defines environment pollutant as any solid, liquid or gaseous substance which has harmful effect on the environment. It also includes heat, sound, radiation and hazardous substances whose chemical or biochemical properties are such that their manufacture, storage, discharge or unregulated transportation can be harmful to the environment.
As the Rampal project will adversely affect the environment, it is obviously a clear violation of the environmental law. As the project violates the environment law and environmental law is made under the constitution, it may be a violation of the constitution.
Let's look at the specific constitutional provision in this regard. Article 18A of the Constitution of the People's Republic of Bangladesh very clearly states: “The State shall endeavour to protect and improve the environment and to preserve and safeguard the natural resources, bio-diversity, wetlands, forests and wild life for the present and future citizens.''
The main point according to the above provision is that the state has been given responsibility to protect and improve the environment. Has the state been given the right to destroy the environment?
Some may argue that being a fundamental principle of state policy, the above principle is not judicially enforceable as mentioned in Article 8 of the constitution. To get the answer, we need to look into Article 8(2), which states: “The principles set out in this Part shall be fundamental to the governance of Bangladesh, shall be applied by the State in the making of laws, shall be a guide to the interpretation of the Constitution and of the other laws of Bangladesh, and shall form the basis of the work of the State and of its citizens.”
The above provision has very specifically given extensive importance to the fundamental principles, which are generally overlooked, and the state cannot overthrow them.
Consequently, under Article 18(2), the state has been given the responsibility to protect and improve the environment and to preserve and safeguard the natural resources, bio-diversity, wetlands, forests and wild life for the present and future citizens, but it has not been given the right to destroy them.
As the proposed power plant might destroy the Sundarbans, which is against the public interest, public welfare and solemn expression of the people, it must be a serious violation of the constitution.
We should want not only to stop the Rampal power plant but also stop all activities destroying the Sundarbans. Through implementing the power plant project, the government will violate Ecologically Critically Area (ECA) Acts, Bangladesh Environment Conservation Rules, Forest Acts and Convention on Biological Diversity as well as the Constitution of Bangladesh.
Finally, we want to say that we are not against the power project, but we are against construction of the power plant in Rampal. The project can be transferred anywhere else, far from the Sundarbans, to protect the forest and to protect public interest as well. The government itself is violating environment law by constructing coal-based power plant at Rampal arbitrarily without considering public interest and public welfare, and this arbitrary use of power is also against the law of Bangladesh and also against the Constitution. The government should take pragmatic steps so that the project does not violate the constitution as the solemn expression of the people. We hope the government will work within constitutional periphery. If it does not heed the above important matter consciously, it must be held liable one day.
The writer is Research Officer at BILIA.