The National Committee on Environment has given the go-ahead to 320 industrial projects adjacent to the world’s largest mangrove forest, the Sundarbans.
The decision was taken on Sunday at the fourth meeting of the committee chaired by the prime minister Sheikh Hasina.
It is illegal to set up such factories, particularly those with high pollution, near this world heritage site.
A 10 km area surrounding the Sundarbans was declared an ecologically critical area (ECA) by the Ministry of Environment and Forests in 1999 as per section 5 of the Environment Conservation Act.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) recently asked the Bangladesh government not to set up heavy industries without strategic environmental assessment (SEA) clearance.
The National Committee on Environment in Sunday’s meeting issued permission for a total of 186 industrial projects which were there previously, surrounding the Sundarbans.
Clearance of the other 118 industries, which got preliminary clearance earlier, was also renewed.
The committee also approved a total of 16 new industrial projects near the Sundarbans. Of them, eight are Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) plants that are known to create serious pollution. The remaining eight are large and medium-scale industries.
Environment and forest minister Anwar Hossain told Prothom Alo, “As UNESCO now has no objection to the Rampal power plant, this will apply for other projects as well.”
“The people setting up the industries have taken steps to protect the environment. We will give strict terms and conditions to those who will take such initiatives in future to protect the environment,” he added.
Member secretary of the National Committee to Protect Oil, Gas, Mineral Resources, Power, and Ports professor Anu Muhammad told Prothom Alo that the government is violating its own laws in every step regarding the Sundarbans’ conservation.
The way the government is violating its laws, it looks like the Sundarbans and environment are not safe in this government’s hands.
Convenor of the national committee for the protection of the Sundarbans Sultana Kamal told Prothom Alo, “UNESCO has asked not to set up any industries, including Rampal, in the Sundarbans. At the meeting of the world heritage committee, the government had agreed that a strategic environmental assessment would have to be carried out before setting up any industry in the area. Permitting these new industries is a direct violation of this commitment. It has increased our concern about Sundarbans’ future.”
*The article originally came up in Prothom Alo print edition is rewritten in English by Imam Hossain