It is encouraging that the state minister for shipping has placed “The Mongla Port Authority Bill-2021” in the parliament, which in turn has been sent to the parliamentary standing committee on shipping for further scrutiny. We welcome this much-needed initiative by the government, as it shows its intention to punish those who are responsible for the environmental degradation of the coastal region.
Once enacted, the proposed bill is going to replace “Chalna Port Authority Ordinance, 1976”. The draft law recommends increasing the punishment for damaging the coastal environment by polluting the water, land and coast, to one year’s imprisonment or a fine of Tk 5 lakh or both. Also, violation of the proposed law will result in a sentence of six months imprisonment or a fine of Tk 2 lakh or both. In both cases, the increase in fines from the previous amount of Tk 50,000 is a very pragmatic step. The draft bill has also included a provision to punish the polluters under the “Environment Conservation Act, 1995”. By replacing a dated law and joining hands with an already existing one, the proposed bill seems to be very rigorous and realistic in its plans.
Mongla port is surrounded by the Sundarbans, which is both the largest mangrove forest in the world and also a UNESCO world heritage site. While the port is situated at the confluence of the Pashur and the Mongla rivers, there are other rivers like the Shela nearby, which run through the aforementioned forest. Another report by The Daily Star on April 17, 2018 shows that a total of eight commercial ships, including an oil tanker and six vessels carrying coal and fertiliser had sunk in these rivers between 2013 and 2018. These incidents pose serious threats to the coastal ecosystem as both the trees of the Sundarbans and the aquatic creatures like dolphins and crabs found in its rivers face the risk of extinction as all waterbodies becoming contaminated by harmful elements coming out of such spillages. Also, as the Sundarbans save people living in the coastal regions by protecting them against natural disasters such as cyclones and also provides them with livelihoods, this law is crucial to meet the need of the hour.
The government has to ensure that the proposed bill gets enacted as soon as possible. Also, the concerned authorities have to oversee that not only the operators of the commercial vessels but the owners also can be brought under the jurisdiction of the draft law. Most importantly, the respective bodies must restrict movement of vessels on the rivers directly connected to the Sundarbans to bring about any sustainable improvement to the coastal environment.