What is the best news for Bangladesh environment in 2020? Some may say Coronavirus, as it has given much needed respite to some of the critical forests and ecosystems in the country and for a few months in the first half of the year it dramatically brought down air, road and water pollution. But the impact of the virus was barely felt in the second part of the year as human activities returned to full swing and production in the factories matched pre-Vovif period.
Conservationists would point to several breakthroughs including the sighting of Dhole, an almost extinct Asian jungle dog in a tiny forest in Sylhet, after decades, the stepped-up attempt to save some of the critically endangered tortoises in the Chittagong hill tracts. The announcement by the authorities that they would cut down on the number of coal-fired power plants also come a very good news for the campaigners. There have been some concerted efforts to evict river grabbers, although real progress was limited. More green factories mean more attempts by the Garment manufacturers to cut electricity and water use and make a dent on effluent management.
But in a nation, where polluters are the biggest pay masters and where plastic pollution has reached an alarming level, thanks to the marrying muscle of some of the biggest homegrown companies like Pran. Coca Cola, Pepsi, Unilever, Fresh and Bombay chips, good news for the environment was extremely few and far between. And in addition, the year marked the start of the production of the country’s largest 1, 320 megawatt Payra coal-fired power plant. It started generating power in full scale in October, imperiling much of the country’s fragile Meghna estuary evo system. And then there has been some massive environmental degradation in the islands of Maheshkhali and Matarbari where we are building some of the country’s largest coal based power plants.
Still, there is one big news for our environment that escaped our radars: electric battery powered rickshaws are now the biggest modes of transportation across the country. As the government ensured electricity supply to 99.9 percent villages in the country, it triggered a massive boom for the use of electric powered battery run rickshaws, rickshaw vans and autos in the country. Even a few years ago, these these electric vehicles were unevenly distributed owing largely to the fact that not all the regions were getting 24 hour power supply. But now thanks to power glut and major improvement in power distribution, almost every house in the country now has easy access to electricity. As a result, electric charging of the batteries that these hundreds of thousands of vehicles use is no longer an issue.
The outcome is a revolution. It ushered in the end of non-motorised human driven vehicles in the country. You would still see some human driven rickshaws, but these are available only in major cities such as Dhaka and Chittagong. They are on their last legs and are dying out fast. One day, like what happened to the 3,000-year-old hand pulled ploughs and Goon Tana Nouka some two decades, these hand driven rickshaws will die a silent death in a year or two.
The domination of electric rickshaws, meanwhile, is now complete. They brought speed and comfort in rural transportation.. But they also massively improved environments – – both air and ground – – in our villages and rural towns. They also cut noise pollution to almost zero. Much of the rural Bangladesh is now a tourist paradise thanks to these battery run electric powered rickshaws. Yes, they underline Chinese influence in our economy., as almost all these electric vehicles are imported from the Middle Kingdom. But I am sure soon enough local companies like Walton, Runner and Pran would start manufacturing them in Bangladesh. A billon dolar market has been created and it is now for the local firns to grab it.