In our environmental law circles, there is a widespread belief that "fines for environmental offences are simply too poor". Insignificant fines cannot stop the committing of more environmental offences. In the event of imprisonment, the majority of prisoners are freed on bail by paying a bribe. As a result, these sentences became ineffective.
Our Environmental Protection Act of 1995, Wildlife (Conservation and Security) Act of 2012, and Forest Act of 1927 all have several loopholes.
The main loophole is that our Environmental court is not functional. Environment Court shall not receive any application for compensation or complaint under environmental law unless it is based on a written report by an Inspector of the Department of Environment, according to the Environment Court Act of 2010.
This creates a huge disconnect between our general people and the Environmental Court. This act does not acknowledge the right of ordinary citizens to have direct access to environmental courts so people cannot file lawsuits against any environmental crime. Since the general people do not have direct access to our environmental court, they have filed most of the environmental crime-related cases in the High Court and the biggest problem is here that the high court has a huge burden of many other important prosecutions, as a result, they do not give much priority to those environment-related cases. We will not be able to move forward to protect our environment until we are given direct access in the environmental court.
Moreover, Bangladesh's criminal justice system is slow and bureaucratic. The number of unresolved cases is enormous. The fact that the number of solved cases is less than the number of pending cases is more disappointing.
Furthermore, the average time for a lawsuit to be heard is about three years. It takes 4-5 years to reach a final decision. From 2003 to 2015, nearly 1284 cases were filed in Dhaka Divisional Environment Court, Chittagong Divisional Environment Court, and Sylhet Joint District Judge's Court, where more than 667 cases are still pending. Due to this lengthy process, the damage to our ecosystem has become chronic, and there is no way to fix it in the future.
Another rift is here that, no individual shall hunt, sell, import or export any wild animal without a license or, as the case may be, obtaining a permit under Act, or willfully pick, uproot, kill, or collect any plant included in Schedule IV, according to Chapter 3 of the Wild Life Protection Act of 2012. However, the majority of our forest dwellers take advantage of this opportunity to meet their benefits by hunting and deliberately damaging our animals and plants using poison, traps, or other dangerous chemical substances. As a result, they commit any of these criminal offences under the power of a license, and no charges can be brought against them. If the license is not issued through proper investigation and monitoring, then where is the basis of the license?
Some unclear definitions and explanations in the Wildlife (Conservation and Security) Act of 2012, the Forest Act of 1927, and the Environment Conservation Act of 1995 are another loophole. There are still some incorrect category lists, such as the list of protected animals in Schedule 4 of the Wildlife (Conservation and Security) Act, 2012, and the classification of industrial units in Schedule 1 of The Environment Conservation Rules, 1997, where some industries, such as shipbreaking industries, assembling batteries are still classified in the Orange-B category even when they should be listed in the red category. Again, Schedule 4 of the Wildlife (Conservation and Security) Act, 2012 has included some common animals like Common Pigeon, Common Mongoose, Asian House Gecko, Common Myna, House Sparrow, Common House Rat/Black Rat, Greylag Goose, Common Shelduck. Those are unnecessary and irrelevant.
If there are large holes in our environment-related acts and a gap between the general public and the environmental court, then where would we get our environmental protection?
Afia Anjum Anika, North South University, Department of Environmental Science and Management.
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