Twenty Years of Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (BAPA) – Nazrul Islam

Twenty Years of Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (BAPA) – Nazrul Islam

Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (BAPA) has come a long way since its founding in 2020. It has established itself as a reputed civil society organization, operating on the basis of its own strength and not depending on either the government or donor agencies for funding. The financial self-reliance allows it to be self-reliant in thinking too. It is a pity that, after about fifty years of independence, Bangladesh has to depend on foreign consultancy firms for formulation of its major plans, such as the energy plan or the water (delta) plan. By contrast, BAPA and BEN have put forward a comprehensive plan for sustainable development – formulated as the Dhaka Declaration on Bangladesh Environment – based on an independent thought exercise, relying on inputs of Bangladeshi nationals and drawing upon the grassroots experience and wisdom. 

The example of voluntary work by all BAPA leaders and members for the betterment of the country has set a rare example of patriotism in the current age when even social work for payment has become the norm. The BAPA-BEN cooperation has become a model of RB-NRB cooperation that many are now trying to emulate in other areas. 

BAPA’s positive influence therefore is not limited to environmental protection and instead extends to a wider arena of national life. BAPA has acquired esteem not only of the public but also of the authorities, as reflected by the Nagar Padak and Poribesh Padak awarded to it by the Dhaka City Corporation and the Bangladesh government in 2007 and 2011, respectively. 

In the area of environment, BAPA and BEN, together with other pro-environment forces, have achieved many notable successes. Some of these are visible and concrete, such as the removal of TSEVs, introduction of unleaded gasoline; and re-imposition of the ban of plastic bags. Others are less visible but more important in their significance and impact. Initiation and development of the river movement is one of them. Through a slow process of knowledge creation and organization building, the ground has been prepared for more achievements in the future. 

BAPA has grown organizationally. Beginning in the capital city of Dhaka, it has now spread all across the country, with about thirty branches and many local river and environmental movements. Through its Program Committees, it is continuously engaged with all major environmental problems of the country. Following the principle of combining expertise with activism, BAPA and BEN have devised an innovative type of conference, comprising both Expert and General Sessions, allowing cross-fertilization between experts and activists and between knowledge and experience. The volumes of about twenty conferences that BAPA and BEN have so far organized now serve as the most comprehensive source of information, analysis, and recommendations on environment problems of the country. 

Bangladesh thus now has a robust, nation-wide environment movement, led by BAPA and BEN, and based on strong theoretical and scientific foundations. This movement is working as a powerful countervailing force to the forces of pollution and environmental degradation. Not too many developing countries of similar per capita income level as Bangladesh can boast of such a movement. Bangladesh can be proud of this achievement and showcase it in the international arena. 

However, after two decades of work, BAPA seems to have reached a crossroads. Many pro-environment policies that were achieved through strenuous struggles foundered because of partial, bad, or even perverse implementation by the bureaucracy. More importantly, several of its recent campaigns could not be successful because of lack of political influence. Thus, without greater political influence, it has become difficult to achieve further progress in both pro-environment policy adoption and their implementation. The behavior of the bureaucracy also depends on the political leadership.  How to increase political effectiveness therefore has now become an important question for the environment movement of Bangladesh.  

Looking around the world, several political models of environmental movement can be seen. Among these are: non-party model; faction-model; and party model. Bangladesh has so far followed the non-party model. It had its benefits. However, it is also manifesting its limitations. At the same time, faction-model has feasibility issue in Bangladesh, and the party-model is fraught with many pitfalls. However, an extended version of the non-party model may hold some appeal. Under this model, the environmentalists do not form political party of their own but lend support to some independent candidates who have outstanding record of commitment and struggle for environment. Inclusion of even a few such environmentalists in the parliament can help to raise the environment movement to a new level and to have a positive impact on Bangladesh as a whole.  

No matter which particular political model is chosen, the success will depend ultimately on whether environmentalists of Bangladesh are successful in converting the environment movement from a movement of activists into a mass movement. Only a mass movement can translate into the kind of electoral strength that can make the chosen political model successful. Thus, the key to achieving greater political effectiveness is building mass movement on environmental issues. The objective conditions for transformation of the environment movement into a mass movement do exist in Bangladesh. The question now is whether BAPA and other pro-environment forces of Bangladesh will be able to make use of these objective conditions and achieve a big leap in the protection of environment, in particular, and betterment of Bangladesh in general. 

Nazrul Islam
Founder, Bangladesh Environment Network (BEN)
Initiator, Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (BAPA)


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