The duration of air pollution in Dhaka city is increasing alarmingly day by day, suggests an analysis of data of the capital's air quality.
The environment department's air quality monitoring centre, has found that the city dwellers suffered air pollution for 197 days out of 365 days in 2018 compared to such level of air pollution between 120 and 160 days in the previous years.
It seems, says BRAC University professor emeritus Ainun Nishat, the government agencies have no concern about the air pollution that is severely affecting public life.
“It's an injustice to the people as the government agencies do not have visible activity to stop the polluters and take steps against them,” he told Prothom Alo.
The relevant government secretary, Abdullah Al Mohsin Chowdhury, said, "Seven magistrates are supposed to have been deployed to take action against the polluters. But we have only one magistrate.”
The environment, forest and climate change secretary told Prothom Alo that air is being polluted in large areas of the capital. “We're unable to punish the polluters even if we intend to do.”
Pollutants are spreading fast in the air of the capital due to unrestricted construction, according to the environment department.
However, most of the organisations, which cause pollution, belong to the government, investigation shows.
Stakeholders alleged the department could not take any action against the polluters, other than sending letters to them.
Such government organisations include Dhaka Mass Transit Authority, Dhaka North and South City Corporations, Dhaka WASA, Roads and Highway Department, Local Government and Engineering Department, Public Works Department, Titas Gas Transmission and Distribution Company Limited and RAJUK (capital development authority).
Also, different private organisations pollute the air, the investigation confirms.
Whenever the authorities concerned convene any coordination meeting to control air pollution, most of the organisations send mid-level officials to the meeting mainly as formality.
Findings of the air quality monitoring show the duration of pollution is increasing for the past four years.
Dhaka's air remains more polluted between November and March and the pollution reaches peak between December and February, according to the monitoring.
However, it is now found, the city's nair in March and April remains highly polluted as well.
An ongoing study by environment researcher Atiq Ahsan found that air in the capital was highly detrimental to human health for 165 days in 2014. The duration of air pollution increased to 173 days in 2015, remained 129 days in 2016, and rose to 185 days in 2017, and 197 days in 2018.
The capital's air quality is being monitored every day since April 2014, under the fresh air and sustainable development project of the department.
Stakeholders alleged most of the organisations are not spraying water to control dust, nor are they covering under-construction sites with nets.
The environment secretary said they would hold a meeting with all concerned ministers and secretaries at the end of this month or the first week of next month to find out ways to control air pollution.
Chairman of parliamentary standing committee on environment, forest and climate change, Saber Hossain Chowdhury said, “We have noticed that the environment department earlier conducted drives against polluters and fined them. It is possible under the existing law. We are doubtful about the drives despite increased pollution now.”
On 13 March 2019, the High Court expressed anger as steps were not taken to tackle air pollution in the capital. The HC summoned the director general of the environment department to appear before the court on 10 April. The DG has been asked to submit reports on the steps taken after assessing the state of air pollution in the capital.
The HC said, “A huge dust is polluting the environment where the construction of the metro rail and elevated expressway is going on. We need metro rail and protect environment from pollution. If we want to protect our children, we have to stop air pollution.”
Dhaka has been ranked the second most polluted cities in the world.
Particulate matters in Dhaka city's air are 10 times higher than the permissible level of their presence, as set by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
• This report, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Rabiul Islam.