Economic development that damages the environment serves private interests, but it negatively impacts people across generations in multiple aspects – including their health, mental wellbeing and economic situation.
Experts made the remark on Monday at a virtual seminar titled "Governance for Environmental Human Rights Projection in the Context of Bangladesh: A policy perspective," adding that nature influences human lives in a major way and environmental human rights must be protected.
Professor Farid Ahmed of the philosophy department at Jahangirnagar University presented the keynote at the event organised by The Dev Centre for Philosophical Studies of Dhaka University, stating that public participation in any move related to the environment will be the key to safeguarding environmental human rights.
Professor Anu Mohammad of the economics department at Jahangirnagar University said, "In the last two decades, environmental rights have become more prominent as our environment and planet is facing different kinds of threats in the name of development.
"Industrialists keep effluent treatment plants (ETP) inactive to save on electricity bills. Through such acts, they benefit privately, but people shoulder the losses. Rivers and fish are getting contaminated, and we are getting sick after eating those fish. But such acts increase the GDP growth and of course it benefits those industrialists."
He continued, "Rooppur power plant benefited foreign companies, but they will not take any responsibility if any accident occurs. All these projects will increase the GDP. Power plants near Sundarbans will enhance the GDP, but a clean Sundarbans will not.
"However, Sundarbans will give us many benefits. If Sundarbans gets destroyed, generations of people will suffer. Environmental migration and refugees will vastly increase in Bangladesh in the future."
Anu Mohammad further said, "If you clear a forest and construct buildings, it will increase the GDP. But we cannot call it development. Thus, environmental human rights are important. By protecting Sundarbans and by protecting Buriganga, development is possible.
"And that will be the real development. If Bangladesh sincerely follows the Paris Climate Agreement, the country cannot implement projects such as Rampal Power Plant and Rooppur nuclear power plant."
Anu Mohammad further pointed out that sustainable development goals and unsustainable projects are being implemented side by side, and they cannot be run simultaneously.
He then said, "Furthermore, unsustainable development projects are overshadowing sustainable development. India, China and Russia are investing in those projects in Bangladesh, but those are strictly prohibited in their respective countries.
Mizanur Rahman, former chairman of the Bangladesh Human Rights Commission, said, "Essence of human rights is human dignity, and preservation and protection of human dignity is human rights.
"For this reason, coordination between development and environment is needed. But environmental laws are being ignored by us so recklessly, which is devastating. Why are we damaging our environment in the name of social forestation and mining? This damage cannot be compensated. Damage to the environment causes emotional loss, too."
He questioned, "Why are we uprooting the Mro people from their land to create tourist destinations? Is it environmental justice? But it is the reality of Bangladesh. How can the Rampal power plant be built while still protecting the environment?
"Where will we get environmental human rights and environmental justice if we do not listen to the public voice?"
ASM Maksud Kamal, pro vice chancellor of Dhaka University and president of The Dev Centre for Philosophical Studies presided over the webinar.
"No one was punished for encroaching the rivers though it is a punishable offense. That is why encroachment keeps occurring. If we do not put more emphasis on environmental justice, we will have to suffer more in future," he said at the event.
Teachers and students from different universities were present in the webinar.