Conserving the Ecologically Critical Areas (ECAs) in Bangladesh environment
Ecologically Critical Area (ECA) is an idea that is practiced globally to conserve the natural biodiversity of environmentally susceptible areas. Basically ECA is an environmental protected zone where ecosystem is considered to be threatened to reach a critical situation by the changes brought through human activities. Sec.2 (gg) of the Bangladesh Environment Conservation (Amendment) Act, 2010 provides that "Ecologically critical Area" means such area which is rich in unique biodiversity or due to the importance of environmental perspective necessary to protect or conserve from destructive activities under sec.5 of this Act. These areas also fall within the category of cultural and natural heritage.
In 1999 the government declared 8 areas as ECAs in Bangladesh, e.g., Cox's Bazar and Teknaf Peninsula, St. Martin's Island, Sonadia Island, Hakaluki Haor, Tanguar Haor and Marjat Baor, Gulshan-Baridhara Lake and Sundarbans. Subsequently in 2009, 4 rivers (Buriganga, Sitalakhya, Balu and Turag) around the Dhaka city were declared as ECAs.
Bangladesh is a signatory to the Ramsar Convention, 1971 and the World Heritage Convention, 1972 which are the principal instruments ensuring the conservation of natural heritages worldwide. The principal legislations that safeguard ECAs in Bangladesh are the ECA (1995), the Environment Conservation Rules (ECR) (1995), and the Constitution of Bangladesh. The ECA (1995) in its sec.5 (1) contains provisions regarding declaration of ECA by the DG of the Department of Environment (DoE), which provides that if the Government is satisfied that, an area is in an environmentally critical situation or is threatened to be in such situation, the Govt. may declare such area as an ECA. Sub-sec. (2) points out that, the Government shall under sub-sec. (1), specify the activities or processes that cannot be initiated or continued in an ECA.
The Act also confers power to the DoE to order corrective measures to be taken by any person believed to be responsible directly or indirectly, for causing damage to the ecosystem. Again, Rule 3(1) of the ECR (1997) states that, the Government shall take the following factors into consideration while declaring any area as ECA under sec.5(1) of the Act: (a) human habitat; (b) ancient monument; (c) archeological site; (d) forest sanctuary; (e) national park; (f) game reserve; (g) wild animals habitat; (h) wetland; (i) mangrove; (j) forest area; (k) bio-diversity of the relevant area; and (l) Other relevant factors.
Furthermore, Art.18A of the Constitution of Bangladesh contains provisions regarding the protection and improvement of environment and biodiversity and states that, the State shall endeavor to protect and improve the environment and to preserve and safeguard the natural resources, bio-diversity, wetlands, forests and wild life for the present and future citizens.
The importance of conserving natural heritage has critically been hailed by the judicial activism and esteemed decisions of Bangladesh Supreme Court.
Two PIL have been brought before the HCD by BELA seeking directives of concern authorities for undertaking special measures to conserve the Sonadia Island and Sundarbans Mangrove forest as ECAs in BELA vs. Ministry of Land and Others [Writ Petition No. 4286 of 2003] and BELA vs. Bangladesh and Others [Writ Petition No. 2224 of 2004]. In the previous case, the petition was moved by BELA seeking protective measures to conserve the Sonadia Island as an ECA. The petition argued that the declaration of Sonadia Island as an ECA establishes the fact that the mangrove forest of the said land has special ecological significance. Upon hearing the petition, the HCD issued a Rule Nisi calling upon the Respondents to show cause as to why they should not be directed to undertake protective measures as required under sec.5 of the ECA (1995) to conserve the Sonadia Island as an ECA.
The Sundarbans is a halophytic mangrove forest in the world which was recognized as World Heritage Site in 1997 by UNESCO.
Its wonder is under serious threat due to a recently proposed 1320 megawatt coal-fired power station to be established near the forest at Rampal Upazila of Bagerhat District, Khulna. In 2010 this joint partnership was commenced through signing a MoU between India and Bangladesh which violates the environmental impact assessment guidelines for coal-based thermal power plants and the location of the plant, 14km from the Sundarbans, violates one of the basic preconditions which say such projects must be outside a 25km radius from the outer periphery of an ECA.
With constant environmental degradation in Bangladesh, the amount and area of ECA is still increasing. Despite a large number of ecosystems in Bangladesh could perfectly be described as 'threatened', it is quite impossible for the government to find out, declare and manage all of them as ECAs. However, the DoE is implementing co-management for conserving the ECAs and necessary rules are being framed to regulate different activities contrary to the conservation of the ECAs in Bangladesh.
Department of Law and Justice,