Green light for factories near Sundarbans in Bangladesh

Outcry after court allows industrial plants to be built near the world's largest mangrove forest
Green light for factories near Sundarbans in Bangladesh

A woman is seen fishing near the Sundarbans mangrove forest in southern Bangladesh in July 2015. A court is allowing three LPG processing plants to be built in the ecologically critical area. (Photo by Stephan Uttom/ucanews.com)

The High Court in Bangladeshi capital Dhaka has issued an unprecedented order allowing for the establishment of three industrial plants near the Sundarbans mangrove forest, a World Heritage site.

On Aug. 27, the two-judge court ordered the Department of Environment (DOE) to issue environmental clearance certificates to TMSS LPG Ltd., Baraka Ltd. and Delta LPG Ltd. within 60 days.

All three are liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) processing and bottling companies, so the order paves the way for factories to be built in the Mongla region of Bagerhat district, an ecologically critical area (ECA) of the Sundarbans.

While issuing the verdict, however, the court observed that the Sundarbans is the lungs of Bangladesh, just as the fire-ravaged Amazon rainforest is the lungs of the whole world.

“The Amazon forest is burning. People of the world are ready to protect the Amazon. It is the lungs of the entire world and, like that, the Sundarbans is our lungs. Therefore, it is our responsibility to protect the Sundarbans,” it said, according to a report in the Daily Star, a major English-language newspaper.

The court also observed that LPG was marked as a “red” category industry for the environment but the government had moved to classify it as a “green” category instead.

Lawyer on the defensive

The latest court order contradicts one made in the High Court on Aug. 24, 2017, asking the government not to allow any industry within 10 kilometers of the Sundarbans and to submit a list of industries operating in the area.

It also conflicts with the Bangladesh Environment Conservation Act 2010 that forbids any factory being built in an ECA.

Barrister Shafique Ahmed, a lawyer for the petitioners, welcomed the court verdict, pointing out that his clients were certified “green class” and “not harmful for the environment."

He said they had been forced to file separate court petitions after the DOE did not respond to their applications for environmental clearance for some months.

At least 154 industrial factories, including six LPG companies, are already operating within the ECA of the forest, he noted.

State prosecutor and attorney General Mahbubey Alam called the verdict frustrating and said the state would soon lodge an appeal.

Govt has ‘committed a crime’

Sharif Jamil, a joint secretary of leading environmental group Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon, expressed dismay over the decision.

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“Legally the court is within its rights to allow industries near the Sundarbans. Recently, the government brought in secret changes to the red and green categories, so it can offer legal backing for more industries,” Jamil told ucanews.com

“The government has committed a crime by changing the policy and it has forced the court to rule in favor of industries.”

Various state moves in recent times, including construction of coal-powered plants, had shown the government was not sincere in its professed desire to protect the vital forest, he claimed.

“A vested quarter within the government is trying to make money from industries, even by casting lethal blows to the vital forest,” he said. “We will fight the move on the streets and also in the courts.”

‘Just like the Amazon’

Bishop Gervas Rozario, vice-president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Bangladesh, also expressed concerns over industrial plants being built near the Sundarbans.

“I don’t see a good future for the Sundarbans because the government is constructing power plants and now industries are being allowed near this vital forest,” Bishop Rozario told ucanews.com.

“We know government policy was behind the recent burning of the Amazon forest and the same thing is happening here.

“The Sundarbans is an asset, a gift from God, not only for Bangladesh but also for the world. It is everyone's responsibility to protect this vital forest.”

The Sundarbans is spread out over Bangladesh and India but the largest portion lies in southern Bangladesh.

Since 2013, the country has begun allowing the construction of two power plants near the forest and taken moves to allow industries into the area, triggering an outcry from environmental groups.

They fear that smoke, ash and noise from the plants will slowly destroy the forest, making millions of coastal villagers more vulnerable to natural disasters.

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