Environmentalists' demands cannot be ignored

No development can sustainable by excluding the environment. Policy makers often do not recognise that environmental protection is an essential and integral part of development. Or even if they do, they submit to the interests of certain individuals and groups and remain quiet.

In this context, the statement of Rehman Sobhan, chairman of Center for Policy Dialogue (CPD) and former member of Bangladesh Planning Commission, at the national conference organised by Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (BAPA) and Bangladesh Environment Network (BEN) on Friday, is very significant. He said that since the politically powerful and influential are responsible for destroying the country's environment, environmentalists should go to centre of power and speak out.

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It is a matter of great concern that the influential people are destroying the country's rivers, forests and canals in the name of development. They re well aware that this is not the private property of any individual or any group. This is public property. Even the government does not have the authority to lease these to anyone. Natural environment cannot be kept completely unharmed while conducting development works.

If we look at the history of Dhaka city, we will see that the city was established as the capital in 1610. Until it became the capital of independent Bangladesh, it was the provincial capital and had a population of only a few hundred thousand. Currently the population of Dhaka is more than 150 million. The city has also expanded a lot.

But the Buriganga, the river on which the city of Dhaka is built, has narrowed down due to pollution and encroachment. Besides, more than 50 canals crossing through Dhaka city have also been occupied. Turag, Shitalakshya and Balu rivers also are victims of such exploitation. On the one hand, the authorities carried out eviction drives against the illegal settlements on both banks of the river, while on the other hand, the influential people continue to fill it.

Similarly, the influential and powerful have destroyed many reserved forests in the country from which the Sundarbans and the Chittagong Hill Tracts forests have not been spared. Bangladesh has much less than the amount of forest area that a country needs to protect the environment. Yet a quarter is taking over the forests one after the other. Neither the environmentalists' movement nor the appeals of the poor people who depend on those forests and hills could change their mind. Despite prime minister Sheikh Hasina repeatedly asking the concerned people build up factories by destroying agricultural land, they do not pay heed.

That is why Rehman Sobhan has emphasised on environmentalists going to the top authorities. The powerful and the influential must understand that no one is doing the environmental protection movement to serve the interests of individuals and groups. They are doing this to save the country and the people. Therefore, there is no scope to ridicule the environmentalists. Their demands should be taken into cognizance in the interest of sustainable development and welfare of people.

Finally, protecting the environment is not only for environmentalists. The government must play a vital role in this. Had a few of those violating environmental rules been given exemplary punishment, others would become alert lest they would face the same fate.