Environmental Justice and the National-International mechanism 

Tanzid shaikh

Environmental justice refers to the right to a safe, healthy, productive, and sustainable environment. In the case of Bangladesh, “environmental justice” would also include protection against natural disasters and mass displacement, maintenance of natural resources, and protection of health and livelihood for millions. Approximately 210 laws regarding environmental and natural resource conservation are currently in effect in Bangladesh. Despite a large number of laws and policies, ensuring the right to a safe and healthy environment remains one of the challenges in Bangladesh. Bangladesh has made explicit efforts to achieve environmental justice. The statement must be applied and justified. To analyse some issues such as the concept of environmental justice both in Bangladesh and globally,

In the case of Bangladesh, environmental justice involves protection against natural catastrophes and mass displacement, preservation of natural resources, protection against health hazards, and preservation of current agronomy, which is a source of income for millions of people. As it can be seen, the problem lies both within the human rights framework and the environmental justice framework. There is structural racism since there are social and environmental decision-makers who are involved in the disparities of environmental hazards. Environmental injustice continues due to the absence of civil and political rights such as a free trial and a safe environment. From an environmental justice framework that seeks to eliminate harmful environmental and social practices, It also asserts the improvement of public health to remove the disparity in standards of living between urban and rural areas. The approach adopted in Bangladesh is two-fold. As it can be seen,

  • The lawyers want to amend and develop the existing fundamental rights in order to pressure the government to implement environmental policies;
  • The judiciary, on the other hand, said that while state policies can’t be enforced in court, they need to be interpreted in a way that protects the environment.

From an international perspective, environmental justice is usually defined in terms of non-discriminatory protection from exposure to environmental toxins or hazards. However, it is more useful to recognise the underlying social determinants that lead to inequalities that result in environmental injustices at international levels. Environmental justice implies a model of sustainable development that integrates economic development, poverty alleviation, and environmental protection and that recognises the agency of marginalised communities in changing their conditions of vulnerability across the whole world.

Environmental justice is intimately linked to questions of development, human rights, and democratic accountability. Global trade rules fail to take account of these questions of environmental justice, and even self-regulatory systems premised on fair trade may reinforce social and environmental injustice. Environmental justice considers governmental acts of environmental injustice a violation of international law (the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the United Nations Convention on Genocide).

There are some mechanisms to ensure environmental justice. Bangladesh has many laws and regulations for the protection of the environment. But implementation of these laws has been a huge challenge for governmental agencies. Bangladesh has ratified many international environmental treaties and also adopted many environmental laws and policies to implement its international treaty obligations. But, in terms of compliance with these treaties, Bangladesh is lagging behind. The reason behind this is that it lacks the necessary resources and technical capacity to implement environmental obligations.

Bangladesh has also established Environment Courts to settle environmental disputes and apply environmental laws, a Department of Environment for enforcement of environmental laws, adopted national strategies to protect biodiversity and undertaken national action plans to conserve the environment. Bangladesh has a special court to deal with environmental issues under the Environment Court Act 2010 to ensure efficient environmental justice. However, these compliance and enforcement mechanisms are not effective to a large extent.

These mechanisms can be applied through technology transfer, by providing concessions in taxes and duties on the import of goods, helping to decrease pollution, supporting eco-labelling and thus creating more people’s choice in buying goods, and by facilitating common effluent treatment plants. Though there is no such broad incentive mechanism in Bangladesh, the recent examples of the concession in duty on imported goods and common forest management could provide examples of incentive-based approaches.

There are a number of obstacles in the way of ensuring an environmental justice system. Bangladesh has a special court to deal with environmental issues under the Environment Court Act.2010 to ensure efficient environmental justice. But, in reality, that’s not happening. Access to justice for ordinary people is not easy in this court. If anyone wants to file a case, they cannot do so directly. The complaint has to go to the Department of Environment (DOE) for review, and it is only after getting a report from a DOE inspector that the court can take the case. The court can only directly take a case if the inspector doesn’t take the necessary steps within 60 days of the request of any individual and if the court is satisfied with the reasonableness of the complaint. The procedure is complex and takes a certain amount of time, and such barriers may discourage people from coming forward with environmental issues to court to obtain environmental justice. Since environmental offences require scientific and technical knowledge, to make a judgement on such matters, one needs the relevant know-how. Unfortunately, the judges of the ordinary court sit in the environmental court, but there is no environmental expertise in the decision-making process to help them.

The Act needs to be reformed and provisions need to be added which will make the court more friendly and accessible for ordinary people to get environmental justice. The Bangladesh government and NGOs need to stand up for the people who cannot get the courage to go against polluters and create a path for ordinary people to come forward in the fight for environmental justice. Ordinary people’s access to environmental justice is difficult under this Act. One of the purposes of establishing a court is to allow space for people to come forward and get justice easily. The court, at this point in time, seems to be failing in its purpose.

(The author Tanzid shaikh is a student of the Department of Law at the Independent University, Bangladesh)