Environmental and social safeguard are a prerequisite for sustainable development. Local Govern-ment Engineering Department (LGED) is mandated to build rural infrastructure following national and international normative guideline of environmental and social safeguard. Bangladesh is blessed by abundant environmental and social resources there protections much needed. LGED applies to all guiding principles to protect and promote existing environmental and social conditions.
In vision 2021, transformation and communications got high weighs where target set to graduate Bangladesh as a middle income country through developing economy and elevating poverty. In the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) alike vision echoed of the target 1 of goal 9 i.e. 'develop quality, reliable, sustainable and resilient infrastructure, including regional and trans border infrastructure to support economic development and human well-being with a focus on affordable and equitable access for all. Robust infrastructure and broader accessibility is crucial to realize the vision.
LGED is meticulously working to develop rural infrastructures including roads, Bridge & culverts, dam and growth centre markets through implementing various projects. The Second Rural Transport Improvement Project (RTIP-II) is one of the important project of LGED working in 26 districts aiming at developing rural communications infrastructure and institutional capacity of LGED. Under the project, 5248 kilometers rural roads are improving and maintaining in order to build an enabling environment for better connectivity and better lives.
It is anticipated that more than 2 crore people will get benefits from the project to have a better and prosperous life. The project is jointly funded by the Government of Bangladesh (GoB) and the World Bank (WB). Along with many best practices, RTIP-II complying environmental and social safeguard through implementing project activities for sustainable development and maximizing benefits of the people.
However, the concept of environmental and social safeguard is interchangeable for social living and non-living organisms. Coherent and consistence application of environmental and social safeguard relies on professional expertise of an institution. It is notable to mention that indifferent attitude towards guiding principles and notion of random choice to execute development brings harm for all.
In regard to environmental safeguard, the RTIP-II fully complies the Environmental Conservation Act, 1995 and its rules promulgated in 1997, Wildlife (Conservation and Security) Act, 2012 and Park and Natural Water Reservoir Conservation Act, 2000. Along with this, RTIP-II also applies the World Bank Involuntary Resettlement Policy. The Department of Environment (DOE) is entitled to issues of environmental clearance prior to implementing any project. According to the rules of DoE environmental impacts are being assessed based on four categories i.e. Green, Orange (A & B) and Red. After the assessment, necessary mitigations measures set to fix up the issues. The violation of the law has provisioned for legal actions.
RTIP-II has developed a comprehensive mechanism to protect environment safeguard of project operations. The Environmental Management Framework (EMP) has been framed in this regard. Based on it, initial Environmental Assessments (EA) has done for all subprojects around 651. Moreover, out of total subproject, 10 subprojects are demanded further detailed assessments (EIA) that are included Pilot River Dredging, four bridges and others 4 rural roads. The protection of air, water and soil, health-hygiene, safety, livelihood and ecology is major areas under environmental safeguard. Afterwards, the project followed environment management plan (EMP) to mitigate adverse impacts of environment and subsequently monitor progress and implementation status of mitigation measures.
Of social safeguard, RTIP-II complies with the Acquisition & Requisition Immovable Properties Ordinance 1982(amended 1994) of GoB and the World Bank Involuntary Resettlement Policy exclusively clauses of operational policy 4.12 (applicable for mainstream people) and 4.10 (apply for tribal people). Based on the legal instruments, the project has developed Social Impact Management Framework (SIMP). In light of this, the Social Impact Management (SIM) has developed to manage social screenings for all subprojects.
The screening majorly focuses to assess the adverse impacts of the project and recommend to take mitigation measures to resolve challenges (if any). The land acquisition and compensation are very crucial for social safeguard the point of view. The project formed committees at district and upazila to assess value of the land level comprising cross sections of people. Simultaneously, the Deputy Commissioner Office also assesses value of the land following government rules. The difference in value between government price and market price are known as 'Top-up". As per World Bank policy the 'top-up' value would be provided to the project affected people. Resettlement is extremely a delicate issue for Bangladesh where land scarcity exists.
As per government rule, the persons who have no record of rights (RoR) like floating people taking shelter in the bank or public places are not entitled to get compensation. Inspite of having RoR, the WB supported project providing compensation to the affected persons. Eviction is not a pleasant approach since every citizen has right to shelter. Without taking satisfactory mitigation measures no land requisitions have happened in this project.
Under the project, a unique policy paper has developed tilted with 'Tribal People Development Plan (TPDP)' exclusively to implement a subproject for tribal people areas at Jhenygatiupazila under Shepur district. Following a participatory way the policy paper developed and operationalized to implement this subproject focusing the tribal people demand living within the project area.
At present, the Chief Engineer of LGED gives high priority to comply safeguard issues in implementing for all program. The RTIP-II, provides support to LGED for developing its institutional capacity in addressing environmental and social safeguard issues. The project transfers its experiences and learning to LGED as an institution through building capacity of the officials and providing policy supports in this regard.
Furthermore, RTIP-II formed Suggestion and Complaint Mechanism (SCM) to redress grievances and collect suggestions on project operations in 26 districts and 225 upazila. The Suggestion and Complaint Committee (SCC) and the Grievance Redress Committee (GRC) works at district and upazila level correspondingly. These committees are comprised in the cross sections of people including public representatives, teachers, NGOs workers, and civil servants.
National and international instruments on environmental and social safeguard and its harmonization gives a unique perspective of the project to achieve its project development goals. The effective implementation of the policy guidelines ensured pro-people development incorporating people's recommendation and fixing up grievances in time.
Our learning is that environmental and social safeguard must be focused on sustainable infrastructure development.
The writer is Project Director, The Second Rural Transport Improvement Project of LGED
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