This edition of ‘From the Court Corridor’ curates the notable pronouncements of the High Court Division (HCD) and the Appellate Division (AD) of the Supreme Court (SC) of Bangladesh in March 2022.

Directing the eviction of illegal establishments located in Chaktai & Rajhkhali Canals

In 2016 Human Rights and Peace for Bangladesh (HRPB) filed a writ petition to the HCD seeking necessary directives for the eviction of illegal structures and construction works to mark the actual boundaries of the Chaktai and Rajakhali canals in Chattogram. Concerned authorities including secretaries of Environment, Finance, Local Government, Rural Development & Co-operatives (LGRD) and water resources ministries, Chittagong City Corporation Secretary, Chattagram Development Authority Chairman, Director General of Environment Department, Deputy Commissioner, Police Commissioner of Chittagong, Assistant Commissioner Land, and Officer in Charge of Baklia were made the respondents in the petition.

On 6 June 2016 the HCD on preliminary hearing issued a rule directing the district administration to file a report specifying the number of structures on the land of the two canals.

Following the court order, the Deputy Commissioner of Chattogram recently submitted a report to the HCD affirming that there were a total of 126 illegal establishments, including houses, tin sheds, business houses, and godowns on the land of the two canals. Among these structures, 61 are located in the Rajakhali and 65 in the Chaktai areas.

On 16 March 2022 the HCD bench of Justice Zubayer Rahman Chowdhury and Justice Md Kamrul Hossain Mollah, following the writ petition, directed the government bodies concerned to evict all the 126 structures built illegally on the land of Chaktai Khal (canal) and Rajakhali Khal in Chattogram within 90 days. The court also asked the respondents to mark the actual boundaries of the two canals within this period. The authorities were directed to give two weeks to the illegal occupants to relocate the structures from the canals at their costs before the eviction. The government has also been ordered to take necessary legal action against the land grabbers.

The encroachment of water bodies by way of illegal construction is one of the major environmental problems in Bangladesh. Even though actions that obstruct the natural flow of water and change the nature of water bodies such as filling up canals are prohibited under the Bangladesh Environment Conservation Act 1995 and Waterbody Conservation Act 2000, land grabbing has hardly stopped. Thousands of people of Chattogram face an immense problem of water clogging due to illegal refilling of natural water bodies and encroachment of canals that work as the natural gravitational drainage system. The listing of illegal constructions and evicting them was exigent to preserve the nature and character of the canals and save the people of the city from massive suffering. The verdict of HCD to evict the illegal constructions on the land of the canals is commendable to protect the environment of Chattogram.

Directing the government to demolish all the illegal brick kilns in Dhaka and the surrounding districts

The HCD, on 1 March 2022 directed the government to close down the operations of all the illegal brick kilns and demolish their structures in Dhaka and its surrounding districts: Gazipur, Manikganj, Narayanganj and Munshiganj in 15 days to prevent environmental pollution.

The HCD bench of Justice Md Ashfaqul Islam and Justice Md Iqbal Kabir Lytton passed the order in response to a writ petition filed by rights organisation Human Rights and Peace for Bangladesh (HRPB) in 2019 seeking necessary order. The bench also directed the deputy commissioners (DCs) of these five districts to comply with the order and submit the compliance reports.

Following the direction of the court, the Director General of the Department of Environment on February 16 submitted a report to the HCD stating that a total of 319 illegal brick kilns are still running in Dhaka and the four districts even after 95 of them were shut down through mobile courts last year.

Although in 2019, the HCD gave nine-point directive to handle air pollution, it was not properly implemented and worsened the pollution. So, to better address the pollution issue, lawyer Manzil Morshed in early February filed a supplementary petition to the HCD, seeking a four-point directive.

Brick is one of the most indispensable construction materials. Due to the rapid infrastructure development projects in Bangladesh, there has been a sharp rise in brick production throughout the country. Despite the high demand and sharp growth of this sector in the recent decade, the vast majority of brick kilns use outdated, energy-intensive technologies that are highly polluting. Since a good number of brick manufacturers are not advancing technologically, the existing archaic technologies, as well as their emissions, exceed the tolerable limit imposing a significant threat on the environment. Given the scenario, the HCD’s order to demolish all illegal brick kilns in the concerned five districts is expected to give rise to considerable improvement to the environment and generate a significant relief in the lives of the dwellers of those districts. 

Asking to take measures against hoarding essential commodities

On 6 March 2022 SC lawyers Monir Hossian, Syed Mohidul Kabir, and Mohammad Ullah filed a writ petition to the HCD seeking directions to form a monitoring cell and formulate a policy to control the present market price of soybean oil and other essential commodities. The petition was filed as public interest litigation based on a news report of 3 March on the soybean oil price hike. Concerned bodies including the Commerce Secretary and the Director General of the Directorate of National Consumers Rights Protection were made respondents to the writ petition.

After hearing the writ petition the HCD bench of Justice Farah Mahbub and Justice SM Maniruzzaman issued a rule upon the respondents to explain within four weeks why their failure in monitoring and controlling market prices of daily essentials should not be directed illegal.

In the rule, the HCD further wanted to know why the inaction and failure of the Directorate of the National Consumer Rights Protection in taking remedial measures for protecting the consumers’ rights shall not be declared illegal.

The court also asked the government to show causes as to why the respondents should not be directed to formulate necessary regulations in compliance with the Competition Act, 2012 to prevent illegal syndication business and take legal action against those who are responsible for such illegal syndication of business and making the market unstable.

The question as to why the respondents shall not be directed to include the provision for distribution of daily essential commodities among people through ration cards in the Open Market Sale policy has also been raised in the rule.

The respondents have also been directed by the court to take appropriate measures against those hoarding essential commodities including edible soybean oil under the relevant laws of the country.

The concerned authorities were directed to submit a compliance report within 26 April 2022 regarding their actions to prevent the illegal syndication of business that contributed to price hikes.

The Ministry of Commerce, Ministry of Home, Ministry of Food, Bangladesh Competition Commission, Directorate of National Consumer Rights Protection, Trading Corporation of Bangladesh, and the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FBCCI) have been asked to comply with the rule.

The price hike of daily essentials has become one of the biggest concerns in present Bangladesh. Syndicates establish a monopoly by way of hoarding essential commodities to make extra profit. Such syndication of business that causes adverse effects in the competition of the market is illegal under the Competition Act, 2012. The Bangladesh Competition Commission can take measures to prevent such illegal syndication. The government has also been empowered with the Consumers’ Right Protection Act 2009 to take action against such practice of the illegal syndication of business and making the market unstable by increasing the price of essential commodities more than the government fixed price.

Due to the non-implementation of the laws by the government, the market of daily commodities has become inflammable. The directives of the HCD are appropriate to check on the illegal business syndication that contributes to price hikes and bring the perpetrators within the perimeter of law.

Issuing an order to stop drying and processing tobacco leaves at the premises of academic institutions

On 14 March The Daily Star published a report with the title School ground turns tobacco drying field following the use of the premises of Durgapur Government Primary School and Durgapur High School for drying and processing tobacco leaves. Thereafter, SC lawyers Nahid Mahtab and Ishrat Jahan Santona placed the report before the HCD bench for necessary directives.

The HCD bench of Justice Farah Mahbub and Justice SM Maniruzzaman, on a suo moto rule, passed an order directing the government to take necessary steps to stop drying and processing tobacco leaves on the premises of academic institutions across the country. The bench also ordered the local administration to immediately move tobacco leaves from the premises of Durgapur Government Primary School and Durgapur High School.

According to the report, the farmers kept the school premises occupied from morning to afternoon every day which imposed a big threat on the health of more than 500 students and teachers of the two government schools. Moreover, such occupation by the farmers deprived the students of routine sports. The order issued by the HCD to stop drying tobacco leaves on school premises would ensure the safety of the lives of the students and teachers at the concerned schools and allow the students to take part in their routine sports.