Speakers at a roundtable stressed the need for the removal of inconsistencies and ambiguities from the water act to ensure people’s right to water in the country. Mass hearing is required to make the law people friendly, bringing necessary amendments to it, said the discussants in the roundtable on Bangladesh water act, 2013.
However, it is notable that Bangladesh government had proposed two drafts on Water Act prior to pass its Water Act 2013 on April 28, 2013. ALRD’s intervention on water was formally started in 2009 by forming a national platform “Water Rights Forum (WRF)” with seven leading rights based NGOs in Bangladesh— ALRD, Nijera Kori, BELA, Nagorik Uddyog, BNPS, CCDB and INCIDIN. ALRD is hosting the secretariat of the forum and initiated its activities since July 2010 on the first draft of the water act that published in the website of Water Resources Planning Organization (WARPO).
On the proposed drafts, ALRD- member of Water Right Forum (WRF) regularly monitor the act from the beginning and organized several seminars, roundtables, press conference and discussions divisionally in the country to provide peoples’ opinion or recommendations to the policy makers to make the act more people friendly in particular. The sequential discussions in different divisions of the country likewise— Dhaka, Chittagong, Rajshahi, Khulna and Barisal engaging people from all walks of life including grassroots people’s, media and CSOs and consolidated the recommendations in the alternative proposal from WRF and placed it twice to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Water Resource Affairs to make their voice heard at the decision level. Consequently the government passed the water act, 2013 in the parliament with some recommendations from the WRF but most of them are not reflected. At this time, ALRD in cooperation with Water Rights Forum (WRF) organized the roundtable titled ‘Bangladesh Water Act 2013: People’s Right and the Proper Use of Water Resources’ at National Press Club VIP Lounge on May 25, 2013 in Dhaka and Ahar Party Center, Shah Bari Tower, Station Road on 29 June, 2013 in Rangpur with a view to make public the water act with legal explanations and loopholes of the act that passed recently by the parliament.
In Dhaka, the seminar chaired by Khushi Kabir, Chairperson of ALRD and Coordinator of Nijera Kori where the key note paper on Water Act 2013 was presented by Syeda Rizwana Hasan- Chief Executive of Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA) and Advocate of Bangladesh Supreme Court. Abu Raihan M Khalid- Advocate Bangladesh Supreme Court, A K M Masud Ali- Executive Director, INCIDIN Bangladesh, Md. Rezaul Karim, Principle Scientific Officer, WARPO and Shamsul Huda, Executive Director of ALRD were presented as panel discussants.
The audiences at the Roundtable discussion on ‘Bangladesh Water Act 2013: People’s Right and the Proper Use of Water Resources’ in Dhaka
People’s access to sufficient and quality water is not recognized as a fundamental right in Bangladesh Water Act 2013 and amendments were required to it for the people’s benefit, said Syeda Rizawana Hasan in her speech. Thus people will not be able to demand anything from government under this law. It is not a user friendly law that addresses the aspiration and needs of the general public. She more added that there are lots of ambiguities in the law. Government should make amendments to the water act to give its full benefit to the people, taking people’s opinion through mass hearing.
Regarding the vagueness, Advocate Abu Raihan Muhammad Khalid, a Supreme Court lawyer, said, in other countries government provides ‘explanation note’ with every new law to settle ambiguities but in Bangladesh such indications are not available. Moreover he said that the government should set a target to achieve about the reserve of ground water since underground water table has gone below danger level in some places in the country but there was no guideline in the law regarding its protection.
Throughout the discussion they argued that though in the draft water act was recognized as one of the fundamental rights, finally this provision is ignored entirely. At the same time, there has very little element in the act to make our government accountable. They also viewed that there should have an accepted process to collect mass peoples opinion regarding the act which is totally absent as the draft act was provided on the website where mass peoples access is very limited in Bangladesh. It is included in the act that people’s opinion from water crisis torn region would be taken in to account, but the fact is that nothing is inclusion about the preventive measures of these crises. Government’s accountability, transparency and people’s participation are not ensured throughout the act. To make it accountable transparent and participatory, they suggested that there should have effective committees at district and upazilla level to monitor the implementation of the act. However, the most important issue is that the act does not effective yet as it needs a regulation to be effective, so there still has some opportunity to make advocacy with our government to include people’s recommendations in the upcoming regulations and amending the act to make it peoples friendly.
Agreeing with this basic drawback of the law, other participants said the punishment for violation, with regards to maintenance and protection of water bodies, of the law was also inadequate.
The speakers also said though the draft of the law had been uploaded in the website of Water Resource Planning Organization (WARPO), public consultation before passage of the law was not enough as the majority of people did not have access to the internet.
In Rangpur, The roundtable discussions kick off by the welcome speech that was delivered by Mr. Bakhtiar Hossen Shishir- Coordinator for Rangpur division, INCIDIN Bangladesh where the chair was Md. Osman Goni- Deputy Director, Rangpur Environment Department. Moreover, Key note was presented by Mr. M Iqbal Kabir- Senior Advocate of Bangladesh Environmental lawyers Association (BELA) and Bangladesh Supreme Court and other honorable panel discussants were Professor Sanjib Chowdhury- Principal (Red.), Rangpur Government College; A A M Munir Chowdhury- Advocate, Supreme Court; Dr. Shashwata Vattacharya- Assistant Professor, local college; Md. Atiur Rahman- Lecturer, Geography and Environment Science, Begum Rokeya University, Rangpur; Advocate Rafique Ahmed Shirajee- Assistant Program Coordinator (training), ALRD, Dhaka and the moderator was Shah-E-Mobin Jinnah .
Speakers at the Roundtable discussion on ‘Bangladesh Water Act 2013: People’s Right and the Proper Use of Water Resources’ in Rangpur
The round table arranged to make people conscious about their water rights and to know what the water act, 2013 that passed by the national parliament on 28 April, 2013 reflects regarding it, said Mr. Bakhtiar Hossen in his welcome speech. In the key note Advocate M. Iqbal Kabir made clarification of different articles and clauses of the water act as well as identified those characteristics which need amendment and lucidity to ensure people’s rights to water and make it people friendly in accordance to need. He further said before the implementation we have to review the act to find its loopholes and provide the compiled suggestions to the government. Nevertheless, some significant articles of the act likewise— formation and activities of national water resource management council, protection and preservation, penalty or punishment, people’s right to file case etc. are also discussed by him.
During the discussion the discussants viewed that though it is late, we highly appreciated the initiative because we have get water act finally. In our country every year we get approximately 150/200 acts on different issues; however, it is not obvious that all these acts can play effective role in favor of our citizens, hence, we have to consider the implementation and effectiveness of these huge numbers of acts. Despite the fact, in our country there has very limited scope to discuss with any act which is primarily responsible for not getting the advantage by the act. Therefore, the water act would be very beneficial if it could be implemented properly for the wellbeing of mass people and it is the prime responsibility of our government to take necessary steps for awareness building to construct a people friendly act. Nevertheless, peoples view is overlooked as the draft act is given to the website to collect opinion whereas most of the people in Bangladesh do not have access to website. In consequence there has no participation of mass people in this act. Above all, the role of different NGOs specially the organizers of the roundtable to reach near to the mass people with the act deserves applause. Our government should arrange open discussion to collect people’s opinion.
Further, they exemplified the present condition of Shayma Shundori cannel, once which was the soul of Rangpur; however now the cannel is mostly grabbed and if it would be possible to get back it again, people of Rangpur could use its water for their daily necessities. Similarly due to Tista Project the rivers of this region are being desert for lacking of adequate water, they said and added more, every projects should have specific strategies to accomplish the positive impact assessment before commencement and explore the negative impacts. Day by day people of Bangladesh are facing acute crisis of water and scarcity of fresh water is at the peak in many regions. In this circumstance from now we should think about the way to secure our water, they opined and also argued that by this act water should be declared as universal human rights.
National water council is made of 36 members which mostly dependent on the bureaucrats and ministers where role of Local Government is totally ignored and mechanisms of transparency and accountability of the Government is not ensured by the act. Even the role of different committees is not so apparent. There has no provision about construction of unplanned dam, sluice gate and bridge; rain water harvesting; and about those communities whose livelihood is only dependent on water. Victims can not file case without the permission of the head of WARPO which violates people’s right.
In his speech chair of the roundtable said as much as we discuss about the act with mass people, they will be aware about their rights and problems. Suggestions which come from these discussions about the act should be sent to the policy makers to amend the act, he added. Finally, he concluded the roundtable by the vote of thanks.