Another toothless commission may be on the cards
The draft ‘National River Protection Commission Bill, 2013’ aimed at saving rivers from pollution and encroachment received final approval of the cabinet on Monday. According to the cabinet secretary talking to media men after the cabinet meeting at the secretariat, quoted in a New age report on Tuesday, after enactment of the proposed law, the government will institute a five-member commission led by a chairman for three years involving persons ‘expert in environment or water resources/water management or law and well versed in human rights issues’. Moreover, the law will enable the commission to frame rules necessary to widen its scope to protect water bodies such as haors, beels and khals from pollution and grabbing. It is beyond doubt that the move is a step forward for the environment and water bodies in the capital Dhaka and elsewhere in the country, which are at serious risk due to unabated pollution and encroachment by different influential quarters over decades.
However, that the government has reportedly finalised the draft law without consulting the stakeholders, including green activists vociferous for long on the issue, casts doubt about its acceptability as well as effectiveness. As the executive director of Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers’ Association—a nationally and internationally acclaimed rights organisation—pointed out, the proposed commission is likely to lack any statutory power and thus become just a recommending body. Besides, it will have to depend on 14 ministries and divisions as far as implementation of its recommendations is concerned. Overall, the proposed National River Protection Commission is set to resemble the National Human Rights Commission that has already proved to be a toothless tiger playing hardly any role to prevent deteriorating human rights condition in the country since its inception. It is all the more so as the proposed commission is to depend on those ministries and divisions whose track record of addressing public concerns, including those involving environmental issues, in the past four years or so is dismal. Even repeated High Court verdicts have so far largely failed to make any difference. What is worse, allegations have it that while there is a nexus between the corrupt officials of those ministries and divisions and the polluters and grabbers of water bodies, there are some government authorities that have themselves raised structures on land obtained through illegally filling rivers and water bodies since independence.
As there is still ample scope to give teeth to the proposed commission before the relevant bill is passed in parliament, the incumbents are well advised to do so, obviously, in consultation at least with experts. After all, in line with their election pledge, they are obligated to ‘create pollution free environment’ and ‘save water resources’.
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