Dhaka has been ranked as the second most polluted capital city in the world in the 2018 World Air Quality Report released by Greenpeace and AirVisual. It scored 187 in the AirVisual Index and 361 in Air Quality Index. High levels of PM2.5 (ambient airborne particles) have been found in Dhaka's air. Also, in the Environment Protection Index, Bangladesh stood 179th among 180 countries. This clearly depicts the state of Dhaka's air which is extremely hazardous for public health.
The consequences are evident. Tens of thousands of people suffer from respiratory diseases per year in the country. Global Burden Disease Project showed that the average lifespan went down by 1.87 years due to ambient air pollution in Bangladesh. Already, Bangladeshis are spending an exorbitant sum of money on medical treatment for respiratory illnesses. This means that diseases due to ambient air particles risk having a huge economic impact in the country by dragging down the working capacity of people.
Poribesh Bachao Andolon and Nagorik Odhikar Songrokkhon Forum have said that 90 percent of dust pollution in Dhaka is due to the construction of different flyovers and metro-rail roads, and 56 percent of air pollution stems from uncontrolled brick kilns. Air Quality Index has found that the following five pollutants, namely ground level ozone, carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter in Dhaka's air, are present in dangerous levels. There are several sectors contributing to air pollution. Brick kilns are the number one contributor to air pollution in Dhaka, as many of the kilns are still using 120-foot black chimneys that release harmful gases which ultimately penetrate the ozone layer. And according to Department of Environment data, there are about 7,000 brick kilns in Bangladesh. Almost 2,000 of the kilns don't have a licence or permission from the DoE. 88 percent of kilns do not adhere to the Brick Manufacturing and Brick Kilns Establishment (Control) Act and the newly enacted provisions before establishing kilns. And as far as established kilns are concerned, they do not upgrade to zigzag kilns, Hoffman kilns or Tunnel kilns.
In addition, among 3.89 million vehicles registered with the BRTA, 5,00,000 are unfit to be driven on roads. According to the law, if a vehicle becomes unfit, reaches its shelf-life or causes serious environmental pollution, registration shall be cancelled immediately. But these vehicles are running daily on the country's roads—releasing harmful gases with high amounts of sulphur contributing significantly to air pollution.
The situation has worsened. The Bangladesh government should have paid heed to this foreseeable manmade disaster a long time ago. The draft of Clean Air Act-2019 has already been proposed by the Department of Environment and Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers' Association (BELA). It is waiting to be presented before the cabinet and parliament. But this process started in 2018. The fact that a law regarding something as critical as air pollution takes so long to get passed in parliament reflects the lack of policy attention.
Moreover, some of the sections of the Clean Air Act have been emphasised by DoE and BELA. They prescribe for the establishment of the National Air Quality Management Plan in Section 6, declaration of “critical” areas due to air pollution in Section 7, establishment of an advisory council consisting of 29 members from different ministries and departments under Section 11, and 10 years' imprisonment for violating any provision of this law by any person, private or public agency under Sections 25 and 27. So far the proposals seem well-thought-out and we know that prevention is better than cure. This law shall be mandated with measures for preventing air pollution rather than only concentrating on cure.
The sources of pollutions may be marked along with critical areas under Section 7 of the Act. It will help in reducing the release of detrimental gases and protecting people living in those places. The vehicles marked unsafe under this Act and Road Transport Act-2018 shall be removed immediately from the roads with the help of Bangladesh Road Transport Authority. National Air Quality Management Plan under Section 6 may set some national standards for the emission of particulate matters, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide, etc., so that the amount of fuel containing sulphur can be reduced and monitored by the board. Manual brick kilns may be updated to environment-friendly brick kilns as soon as possible by removing the black chimneys as prescribed under Brick Manufacturing and Brick Kilns Establishment (Control) Act. The advisory board under Section 29 of the Clean Air Act 2019 may be formed within two months after the Act gets passed as we don't have even one year to spare. The Bangladesh National Ambient Air Quality Standard may be set up before the Act comes into force for carrying out technical and scientific research and promoting advanced technologies to prevent air pollution. We hope the law gets passed in no time.
Sakhawat Sajjat Sejan is pursuing an LLM, Department of Law, University of Chittagong.