ARTICLE 19 has been working with people in Bangladesh to help them fight for better environmental protection. By training local communities to use the right to information law, we are encouraging communities, civil society and campaigners to ask questions about what the authorities are doing to create a safe and sustainable environment.
We have worked closely with people from across the country, including in the vulnerable coastal districts of Bhola and Cox’s Bazar; in the forested areas of Gazipur and Bagerhat; and in the northern coastal areas of Khulna and Sathkhira.
Masum Billah is a community leader from the Khulna municipality. He has received training from for ARTICLE 19 on how to use the right to information law in Bangladesh and has taken part in workshops that we have run about how to organise community campaigning.
Masum took part in discussions with the Khulna Development Authority (KDA) and the Department of Environment, which included a session talking about the state’s obligations under Bangladesh’s Right to Information Act 2009.
Masum was informed by the communities in Ward 32 that rice mills and wood husk mills were being established under the KDA without proper authority; they not have the necessary clearance, violating provisions of the environment laws of the country. Masum filed an application to the Department of Environment asking for disclosure of a full list of mills and factories with and without clearance. The authority provided him with a full list of mills and their certification status. It became clear that half of them did not have the proper clearance.
Masum Billah and his organisation, Social and Environment Movement (SEIAM) is now taking legal action against the Department of Environment and KDA and campaigning for the removal of the illegally established mills.
Acknowledging the role that ARTICLE 19 has played in his quest for protecting the environment, Masum Billah acknowledged:
“ARTICLE 19 has introduced me to a new tool for holding local government and authorities accountable to their responsibilities for protecting the environment and for greater disclosure, I can see the benefits of the use of the law.”
Masum Billah is fast emerging as a strong right to information activist and beginning to play a leadership role in the newly formed Environmental Protection Defenders Forum, a fora of community based organisations working on environmental protection issues.