When the city grapples with environmental offences, the Dhaka Environment Court is sitting idle for lack of cases thanks to its limited and confusing jurisdiction and lack of cooperation from the Department of Environment (DoE), said experts.
Only 19 cases were filed with the court over the last four years since 2012 while it did not find any environment-related case in the last one year, prompting the court to be engaged in dealing with civil and criminal cases.
Green activists said many environment-related complaints do not make it to the court as the mobile courts conducted by the DoE dispose of those by realising mere fines.
They said the different sections of the Environment Court Act-2010, especially section 7, need to be amended as soon as possible as those make the court’s function depended on the DoE.
The government set up two environment courts in Dhaka and Chittagong in March, 2002 under the Environment Court Act-2000 to speed up the trial of the environmental-related crimes.
Later on October, 2010, The Environment Court Bill-2010 was passed in parliament replacing the previous one to expedite trials related to environment pollution and formation of courts in every district, but no such court is yet to be set up in any district. The present condition of Chittagong Environment Court is not different from Dhaka’s one.
Contacted, Chief Executive of Bangladesh Environment Lawyers’ Association (Bela) Rizwana Hasan said the Environment Court has now become nearly dysfunctional as the current law limits its jurisdiction while it gives the DoE more authority than the court in some cases.
“The jurisdiction of Environment Court is also not clear. It can only deal with the environment-related crimes under the Bangladesh Environment Conservation Act 1995 (amended 2010). The court has also the authority to try non-environmental cases,” she said.
She also said there is another obstacle that no case regarding environment pollution can be filed with the court without taking report from DoE or informing it.
Rizwana said it is essential to make the Environment Court people-oriented with its exclusive jurisdiction on all environmental problems through amending the Environment Court Act-2010.
Poribesh Bachao Andolon (Poba) chairman Abu Naser Khan said the Environment Court cannot function in its current set-up which is beset with many loopholes and weakness.
He said the government’s insincerity, lack of people’s awareness and cooperation from DoE and vague jurisdiction of the courts are the main reason for the sorry state of the court.
Mentioning that filing a case with the court is a very complicated job, the Poba chief said even he could not file a case with the Environment Court due to various complexities and lack of cooperation from the DoE.
Naser said before filing a case a victim must first need to lodge a complaint with the DoE about his or her allegation. “Later, the DoE investigate the matter and it can fine the accused polluters or can file cases with the Environment Court. If the department doesn’t take any satisfactory step despite passing of 60 days after submission of the complaints, the plaintiff then can move to the Environment Court.”
Public prosecutor (PP) of Dhaka Environment Court Firozur Rahman Montu said the number of case at their court has come down to zero over the last one year. “Only 19 cases have been filed with the court over the last four years.”
He said the Environment Court cannot play an effective role for lack of cooperation from the DoE as it is more empowered than the court. Primary responsibility to file a case and probe the allegation is vested upon the DoE.
Besides, the PP said the section 7 of the Environment Court Act-2010 has given the DoE and its DG some special powers, including conducting mobile court.
He said the DoE carries out a few drives and take light punitive action against the offenders. “The mobile courts allow most polluters to go unpunished, except charging simple fines as the inspectors have a nexus with the offenders. So, the DoE is more interested in conducting mobile courts to realise fine instead of bringing the polluters to court for ensuring due punishment.”
DoE additional director general Kazi Sarwar Imtiaz Hasmi admitted that the Dhaka Environment Court remains inactive for various reasons.
He said people do not want to go to the court to file environment-related cases due to legal complexities. Besides, the DoE DG’s permission is needed to file a case with it. “So, the Environment and Law Ministry can take proper steps to strengthen the court and modify the laws.”
Hasmi said their department does not get interest to file cases with the court due its poor performance and the lengthy judicial process for lack of trained and adequate manpower.
He said since the court cannot play an effective role in trying polluters, they conduct drives against the environment offenders, UNB reports.