The Department of Environment (DoE) is negligent in carrying out the High Court order to shut down brick kilns in Dhaka's neighbouring districts, the court said on Monday.
To ensure air quality in Dhaka city, the High Court, on November 26 last year, ordered the authorities concerned to shut down all brick kilns in five districts around Dhaka within 15 days.
The court also asked the DoE to submit a report on the progress of the order's implementation.
The court gave the order in response to a writ petition filed by Advocate Manzill Murshid, president of Human Rights and Peace for Bangladesh, in January last year.
On Sunday, the DoE submitted the report; the High Court bench of Justice FRM Nazmul Ahsan and Justice KM Kamrul Kader heard it on Monday.
In the report, the DoE said there are 559 bricks kilns in the five districts – Narayanganj, Munshiganj, Manikganj, Narsingdi, and Gazipur – around Dhaka. Of those, 349 were shut by the DoE mobile court and their owners were fined a total Tk4.92 crore.
The DoE said it carried out the mobile court operations despite its limited manpower.
However, the court was not satisfied with the progress. It said it was aggrieved at the negligence of the DoE in implementing the court order.
The court summoned the DoE director general, ordering him to appear before it on February 2.
The court asked the DoE director general to explain the state of Dhaka's air quality and his department's manpower shortage.
The court also asked him to explain how the Tk300 crore allocation for the Clean Air and Sustainable Environment project was being spent.
Advocate Manzill told The Business Standard that the DoE failed to implement the November 26 court order to shut down brick kilns.
"As a result, the court today [Monday] again ordered the DoE to shut the illegal brick kilns within two months. This is not the first time the court has given such an order. Such orders were given in the past too but the DoE is always negligent when it comes to implementation," he explained.
Deputy Attorney General Abdullah-Al-Mahmud Bashar, who represented the government, said air in Dhaka is mostly polluted by illegal brick kilns outside of the city.
The DoE director general, Dr AKM Rafique Ahammed, refused to comment when The Business Standard contacted him on Monday evening.
According to a DoE report, there were over 3,000 brick kilns across the country until November last year. Of those, 1,246 were in 12 towns in different areas of the country, and 559 were in the five districts around Dhaka.
In the last year and a half, 737 brick kilns were closed – while pollution continues to emit from 2,263, said the report.
Syeda Rizwana Hasan, chief executive of the Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association, told The Business Standard the court had ordered the DoE to shut down brick kilns several times in the past but the latter did not act accordingly.
"The existing law prohibits the construction of brick kilns within three kilometres of residential areas. There are some other prohibitions too. However, most of the brick kilns have been built in violation of the law," she said.
Rizwana said the DoE is the authorised body to monitor these matters but it did not take any action despite orders from the High Court.
"DoE officials sometimes visit brick kilns. We have received complaints that they take bribes and then take no action against the illegal brick fields," she added.
Md Abu Bakar Siddique, organising secretary of the Bangladesh Bricks Manufacturing Owners Association, said, "No illegal brick kiln owner may be a member of our association. We urged the government several times to stop the operations of illegal brick fields. We talked with different higher authorities but got no result."
He said the authorities who should take action in this regard are inactive.
"We demand that we go for full-fledged automatic brick production in the country. We asked the government to ban the traditional system of brick production. Automatic brick production has no harmful effects on the environment," added Siddique.
After Advocate Manzill filed the writ petition, the High Court on January 28 last year issued a ruling asking the government why the inaction of the administration to curb air pollution in Dhaka city should not be declared illegal.
It also asked why the authorities concerned should not be directed to take effective steps to stop air pollution in the city.