Polythene banned on January 1, 2002 made a full comeback: Factories are paying the police to operate and market the products

Since 1982 polythene is used in Bangladesh as a packaging and every corner of country is using polythene bags for daily use. The demand is rising everyday and new factories are springing up like mushrooms, while the demand of natural jute products dropped to 8 percent (Bangladesh Jute mill Corporation, March, 2000) while it is 90 percent in the neighbouring India. The use of polythene is now not only creating health and environmental hazard but also lost of 50,000 jobs who used to work in cottage industries that produced jute, plant leaf, paper and cotton bags (FEJB, March 2000).

ploythene comebackIllegal polythene traders remain out of the police dragnet, as law enforcers are reluctant to catch them on apparently flimsy grounds that they were not directly empowered by law. But the Department of Environment (DoE) says a circular on May 4, 2002 outlines that a police officer can act as an inspector to arrest offenders and file cases for environmental offences related to polythene although the conservation law does not stipulate any role of the police.

According to Section 17 of the Environment Conservation Act 1995 and Section 2 of the Environment Court Act 2000, a DoE inspector or any other person authorised by the director general of the department can act as an inspector to file cases against violators of the law. But police officials told Star City that they were not given enough power and authority to net the polythene sellers and producers."When we launch a drive against the illegal polythene traders, we face a lot of problems as the police have not been directly authorised in the texts of the Acts," a police officer said, requesting anonymity.

Police officials said they should be directly empowered and the word 'police' has to be clearly written in the texts of the Acts. "All environmental offences under the Environment Conservation Act 1995 should be declared cognisable offences," a senior police official said. But environment ministry and DoE officials said cognisable offence is a sensitive issue and the police using this power can arrest anybody without warrant issued by the court.

"That will be very destructive to the business community and the interest of the country. With this power, dishonest policemen can misuse the law and harass people," said a high official of the law ministry. Sources said the home ministry and the environment department exchanged several letters over the dispute but the problem has not yet been solved.

Experts said nowhere in the world have the police been directly authorised to take action for environmental offences. They also said the DoE officials would not be able to misuse the power directly what the police might do. "Check and balance is ensured in the process as the police have not been directly authorised in these two Acts," an environment ministry official said, adding: "The circular clearly says about the role of the police."

A case against the state, filed by a polythene producer with the High Court, was reported in December 2003 issue of the monthly law journal, Bangladesh Legal Decision (BLD). In the case-- Sirajul Islam Vs the State -- the authority of police to investigate polythene offences was challenged. The court in its verdict said the delegation of power to the police officers by the DG of the environment department is lawful.

Polythene banned on January 1, 2002 made a full comeback into the city, the experts say, because of poor infrastructure and a weak monitoring system. "We do not have any monitoring cell but a taskforce led by the director general for the implementation of the law," DoE Director Riazuddin Ahmed said. A visit to Karwan Bazar, New Market, Baitul Mukarram, Islampur, Gulistan and Farmgate made it evident that the use of polythene has continued over the last two years violating the law. As a camouflage measure, only the shape and colour of bags have changed since the ban was slapped.

"To avoid legal action most factories are producing polythene bags without the cut-out space for the grip which is but eyewash," said Amit Ranjan Dey, an activist and member secretary of the Polythene Bag Protirodh Samannay Committee, a non-governmental organisation to resist polybags. Most people now use nylon and net bags and these bags, when burnt, emit hazardous fumes as polythene, experts said.

A large number of clandestine factories are manufacturing the polybags in Mohammadpur, Lalbagh and Islam Bagh areas. Sources said small factories are paying the police to operate and market the products.

Years of indiscriminate use of cheap polythene bags ultimately became a serious environmental threat to the environment. Discarded bags clogged sewerage lines, surface drains and damaged fertility of the soil and polluted canals and rivers. Violators of the law will be sentenced to six months in prison or be fined Tk 10,000 for selling, display, storage, distribution, commercial carrying and use and will be sentenced to 10 months in prison for production, importation and marketing.

"More campaign, enforcement and an alternative to polythene are urgent to make the country free from the banned item," an environment activist said (Mizanur Khan, , 2004)

Of polythene and Pintu

GOKHLE, during the British rule, once said, "What Bengal thinks today, the whole India thinks tomorrow." It was not so much an affirmation of the intellectual prowess or pioneering thought process of Bangalees; it was just to pacify and placate the approbation-hungry talkative sluggish throng. It gave the Bangalees a fat head and a high brow superiority complex that still permeates today. So while many Indian ethnic groups have made major strides, Bangalees have been bogged down in the same listless quagmire, with the sole exception of the glorious freedom struggle, a proud big bang in an otherwise moribund history.

California, on the other hand, is the pioneering US State that initiated plenty of good changes, emulated by many. It introduced lead-free, sulfur reduced gasoline, catalytic converter for vehicles many years ago. The state introduced a myriad of other environmentally sound practices, which has made it a model for anti pollution laws. Berkeley, the city where the reputable campus of University of California is located, banned the use of Styrofoam cups and containers, used mainly in fast food places, and polythene bags in the late 1980s. After some hullabaloo and brouhaha from the restaurant industry, super markets and vested quarters, things settled down. Paper cups and plates, and paper bags took the place of harmful Styrofoam and polythene counterparts. And that was the end of that.

We are often swift and fleet footed to chastise and condemn the government for a plethora of misdeeds and missteps. And God knows there are plenty to censure and castigate the government about. We must then occasionally laud it for salutary step it occasionally but rarely takes. The banning of polythene bags, effective from January 1 in Dhaka and end of February in the rest of the country is one such laudable step, only if it is carried out meaningfully and stringently. Some say the decision has been made hastily without rehabilitation of the displaced workers. The fact is this prompt decision needed to be taken with a short notice and in a whirlwind fashion so that strong lobbies and vested interests could not thwart this action of immense public benefit. New Delhi, for example, banned diesel powered and leaded gasoline driven vehicles plying its streets with a week's notice. There was a huge hue and cry and noisy demonstrations from the affected groups. But all soon quieted down.

The millions of polythene bags clog sewer lines and drainage system, cause water logging and result in serious harm to us, fish and other living beings. You look around you in all low lying and marshy land and you will see millions of these unseemly bags floating or lying around as an eyesore but more so as health hazard to most living things, perhaps with the exception of mosquitoes. To paraphrase a famous adage 'the proof is in the pudding.' The sincerity of the government edict will be tested not only in the implementation of the decision but also in the clean up of the millions of these harmful black bags out in the open and clogging the waterways and drainage, and subsequent follow up. One way of providing meaningful employment to the displaced workers may be to form clean up crews from amongst them. That ought to keep them busy for quite some time.

The banning of the use of polythene bags must necessarily be looked at as a small, albeit significant, first tiptoe step in mitigating the environmental disaster and degradation that we confront everyday. These are especially harmful to the children. The logical next step has to be the banning of diesel engines, leaded gasoline and higher carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide emission vehicles, many of which ply the streets to make Dhaka the most polluted city in the world. Even worse than Mexico City, nicknamed the 'gas chamber' for the profusion of pollution. The problem may be the tempo and baby taxi crowd, the unfit trucks' and buses' owners and unions have a lot of political clout and thunder. It will be interesting to see if the government can overcome these pressure groups and take another sorely needed, environment friendly, people-benefit-oriented step, overcoming the powerful and influential lobbies and vested interests.

Speaking of harmful objects and things needing mandatory prohibition, the double dose of relief and good news this week has been the nabbing of Pintu, the notorious ruling party MP. He had allegedly assumed the mantle of Hazari, Shamim Osman, and other godfathers of the erstwhile ruling party and the previous regime. This gentleman, father of two with student days long behind him and at best a distant misty memory, was until recently the chairman of the central committee of the student wing, affiliated with the ruling BNP. This committee was so notorious, and their activities and criminal enterprises so insidious and outrageous, the body was recently disbanded. That, unfortunately, was at best a cosmetic and symbolic step. The rampant extortion, terrorism and criminal activities of the cadres of the student group went on unabated. One can only hope that the exemplary arrest of Pintu is a very first step of an intensive, organized and intensified action against his followers and other criminal and contemptible terrorists and their godfathers. The hope and the prayer is that this will not be a pipe dream and wishful musing of a deluded Pollyanna mind. The hope also is the other shoe is not about to drop and the government, after taking two good steps, does not behave like the proverbial monkey in the math book, climbing the oily pole two meters in one minute and slipping down a meter and a half the next.

Ignoring the condescending comment of Gokhle, let us be a little more proactive and action oriented and little less prone to ponderous, lazy, hazy, ineffectual, intellectual high thought. For the good of the people, less pollution and good governance. Source: Omar Khasru, daily star 03. 01. 02

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