Sustainable development is viewed as a development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It warns negative environmental consequences of economic growth and globalization, and tries to find possible solutions to the problems caused by industrialization and population growth. There are three dimensions of sustainable development, i.e. environmental, social, and economic.
Environmental sustainability prevents nature from being used as an inexhaustible source of resources and ensures its protection and rational use. Social sustainability develops people, communities and cultures to improve quality of life, healthcare and education across the globe and fight for gender equality. Economic sustainability focuses on equal economic growth that generates wealth for all without harming the environment. From the local governance perspective, all three dimensions are required to be carried out equally for comprehensive development.
Local government is the key to inclusive and sustainable development at local level as it remains the entry point to access public authorities and state institutions. In Bangladesh, local governance institutions like Union Parishad, Paurashava and City Corporation perform a wide range of development activities to enhance the status of the socio-economic conditions of the local people.
Integration of environmental issues in those development activities is crucially important for ensuring sustainable development and to combat adverse impact of climate change. But these institutions are practically incapable and unable to do so properly due to their poor state of governance. Consequently, the scale and pace of environmental degradation have been rapid and catastrophic in recent years, particularly in the major cities of the country.
There is a robust policy framework in Bangladesh to consider environmental issues for sustainable development at local level. Laws and policies like Environment Conservation Act (ECA) 1995, Environment Conservation Rules (ECR) 1997, Environment Policy 1992, Environment Management Action Plan 1992, Local government (Union Parishad/Paurashava/City Corporation) Act 2009, etc and SDGs guidelines reveal a set of environmental protection parameters to analyse adverse environmental consequences of the regular and development activities by the authority concerned and to adopt appropriate measures to reduce such adverse consequences to acceptable level.
Policies are good in this context, but these are not working properly. Development is chipping away at the environment. One of the reasons for this is the gap between policy and implementation. Enforcing agencies do not consider sustainable development issues in their routine work and development activities. Besides this gap, lack of enthusiasm of elected leaders, lack of proper functioning of internal organisations like Committees and Works Division, lack of environmental knowledge among the general people, lack of proper monitoring, lack of people's participation and cooperation, political influence in project selection, etc are mainly responsible for the non-implementation of policies.
Yes, there is Development Project Proforma (DPP) or Project Concept Paper (PCP) of the Planning Commission of the government. It includes only a question asking for assessment of the environmental impacts of development projects. The DPP/PCP, instead of environmental assessment, only contains a provision to briefly describe the effect/impact and specific mitigation measures thereof, if any, on other projects/existing installations, including on environment like land, water, air, bio-diversity, etc; women and children; employment, poverty alleviation, etc; institutional, productivity; and regional disparity.
The common practice is to provide only self-justifying assertions or subjective judgments. In case of almost all the projects, it is stated in the DPP/PCP, without conducting any environmental assessment of potential impacts, that there would be no adverse impact of the proposed project on the environment; rather it would help improve the environment. Sustainability has nothing to do with the environment in these DPP/PCP statements.
The DPP/PCP does not require either the identification or the quantification of environmental costs and benefits. In each development project, there are usually many serious and easily predictable adverse impacts that may cause great environmental catastrophe.
Committees are set up on paper to monitor environmental impact for the development projects but neither they are aware of, nor they care about the issue. Most importantly, these committees are virtually unheard of by the stakeholders. There is no popular participation at all in environmental assessment, nor is there any demand for it from the people.
Although ECA 1995 and ECR 1997 contain provision for undertaking environmental assessment for proposed development projects in all sectors, they do not provide specific guidelines or requirements for the local government bodies to conduct and review the environmental assessment in their non-industrial projects. So, the government has to produce specific environmental assessment guidelines for those projects. Accordingly, local government bodies should have the power and budget to appoint EIA expert to conduct environmental assessment of their development projects.
Project selection, planning and implementation is done only to fulfill the political commitment and to make the citizens happy by undertaking physical and social development rather than environmental development. This practice must be changed. Potential adverse impacts and mitigation plan should be considered properly before selection, planning and implementation of development projects. Members of project implementation committee and Standing Committee should be selected based on knowledge and expertise, not on partisan considerations.
Local government institutions usually have resource constraints. They do not have enough manpower as well. In many occasions, they have to plan a project within a very short time. Thus, it becomes very difficult for them to integrate people's opinion during planning of the projects. So, sufficient budget, manpower and time should be allocated in this respect. Every project should have a post-implementation adverse impact mitigation plan with effective monitoring system.
Public consultation must be a part of the process of environmental assessment. It would make the process more effective and meaningful. Above all, both politicians and bureaucrats should have strong commitment for proper enforcement of sustainable development legislations and to remove pervasive corruption in this regard.
Dr A K M Mahmudul Haque is Associate Professor, Department of Political Science University of Rajshahi,