Mentioning that strict action will be taken if air pollution is caused by construction works, Environment Minister Md Shahab Uddin said the final letter has been issued to the metro-rail project authorities in Dhaka, asking them to carry out their work protecting the environment fully.
“One of the main reasons behind the deteriorating air quality in Dhaka is the megaproject construction besides the smoke being emitted from brick kilns around the city,” the minister told UNB in an interview.
Md Shahab Uddin expressed his disappointment that the metro-rail authorities are not following the directives to reduce air pollution caused by the construction work even after being warned several times.
Recently, people involved in the metro-rail project were summoned to the Department of Environment (DoE) for a hearing but the level of air pollution caused by their work remained unchanged, the minister added.
Admitting that in countries like Bangladesh issues like environment protection are willfully neglected, Shahab Uddin said, “Small or large projects, whatever those are, must adhere to rules that are in place to protect the environment.”
Outlining the measures taken to reduce air pollution, the minister said more mobile court drives will be conducted as per the court directive.
However, he acknowledged that his ministry lacks the manpower to manage the mobile courts. “We’re increasing our manpower as there’s a court order and more mobile courts will be operated once we do so,” the minister added.
The government has given an approval to set up new divisional offices in Rangpur and Mymensingh as well as offices in 43 districts of DoE under the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, aiming to expand the activities of DoE.
Mentioning that coordinated efforts are needed to control the unbearable level of air pollution in Dhaka, the minister said camps have been set up in Dhaka and in major district towns to assess air quality.
“DoE is constantly measuring the quality of air in divisional cities, industrial towns including Dhaka. After analyzing the quality of air, it has been observed that the level of air pollution rises during the dry season from September to March,” he explained.
“After reviewing the air quality data from 2002 to 2019, it was found that the air quality worsened during the three years from 2016 to 2019,” the minister added.
Apart from big infrastructural projects, smoke emitted from brick kilns, vehicles, and waste of the city corporations are the primary sources of air pollution in Dhaka.
“Brick kilns are responsible for 58 percent air pollution in the capital. Plans have been taken to shut [traditional] kilns currently in operation. We’re working to produce eco-friendly bricks,” the minister told UNB.
He said the government plans to stop burning bricks at kilns by 2025 and use block bricks to construct buildings under government projects.
Kiln owners have already been directed to produce 10 percent block bricks, the minister said, adding that it will be increased to 100 percent over the time and the use of block bricks will gradually be made mandatory in private projects, too.
Shahab Uddin said a survey conducted by DoE in 2018 showed that the number of brick kilns shot up to 7,902 in the country while 2,487 of them were set up inside Dhaka division alone.
According to that research, there were 3, 69,677 motor vehicles in the country in 2010 and the number rose to 6, 19,654 in 2018.
According to the minister, black smoke emitted from vehicles is one of the main reasons behind air pollution and it is increasing as more and more vehicles hit the streets. “We’re planning to curb emission of black smoke from vehicles at any cost. We’ll stop it with support from Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) and all law enforcement agencies.”
“We’ve asked the two city corporations to play a more effective role in preventing air pollution. Inside the two Dhaka city corporations, various construction companies dump construction materials like sand and earth on the streets which is contributing significantly to the growing air pollution,” Shahab Uddin explained.
He also blamed poor system of garbage management and transportation behind air pollution. “Vehicles often run over the garbage left carelessly on the streets causing air pollution.”
The minister said an amount of Tk 20.22 crore was realised in fine from 1,695 industrial enterprises/projects/individuals for polluting the environment from 2018-19 financial year till January 2020.
“During the period, mobile courts were conducted against environmental offences like (illegal polythene, brick kiln, hill cutting, filling up water-bodies, construction materials etc) and Tk 16.38 crore was realised in fine. A total of 459 brick kilns were also partially demolished,” he added.