Experiencing an unsafe, unsecured, and rowdy public space has become a quotidian life for people living in Dhaka City. Daily, we encounter acts interfering with the public’s comfort, health or safety in the way of Noise, Vibration, Heat, Smoke, Smell, Sewer Obstructions etc., which are nothing but offences of public nuisance. Due to the lack of rule of law and awareness among the citizens about the law of public nuisance, we not only commit the offence of public nuisance but also choose to remain inactive whenever we come across such offences. In pursuit of public safety, health and convenience, we need to be aware of public nuisance crimes that occur every day in Dhaka city.
What is Public Nuisance?
When a person does any act or omits to discharge any legal duties which –
- endanger the life, health, safety, property, and morals of the public or
- the comfort of the public, obstruct the public in exercising or enjoying the rights common to all,
is responsible for public nuisance whether such person is an ordinary citizen or a government official under section 268 of the Penal Code, 1860 (hereinafter referred to as the Code).
The purpose of addressing public nuisance is to secure the public’s life, health, property, morals, or comfort and to exercise or enjoy the rights common to the public without any obstruction.
Public Nuisance – The Most Committed Crime in Dhaka City
In Dhaka City, it is impossible to find a day without having news either on the Adulteration of Food, Drink, Drugs, or Air Pollution, Noise Pollution, Rash Driving, and Obstruction in Public Ways, which are crimes of Public Nuisances. Similarly, we experience all these offences regularly. Why? Because either this way or another, we all, are committing a public nuisance. Either we are the dishonest traders, importers and manufacturers, cultivators and processing agencies responsible for the adulteration of food, drink, and drugs, or we are the unskilled, drunken, and reckless drivers who do not obey the traffic law and regulations responsible for rash driving, or the creator of obstruction in a public way by putting dirt, gravel, soil, rubbish, junk vehicle, etc. to obstruct traffic, drainage, pedestrians or otherwise safe and open access to such right-of-way. If not these, we are responsible for activities like spitting, smoking in public areas, urinating on footpaths, parking a car in non-parking public areas, etc. Therefore, either one way or another, each one of us comes under the fold of public nuisance offences.
Offences of Public Nuisance Affecting Public Health, Safety, and Convenience
To give an overview of how activities of Public Nuisance are damaging public health, safety, and convenience; the following illustrates crimes mentioned in Chapter 14 of the Code and are discussed briefly.
Adulteration of Food and Drink:
On a daily basis, some people sell basic food items like rice, pulses, spices, fish, oil, vegetables and sweetmeats which contain toxic chemicals and other harmful additives. According to a survey, the markets in Dhaka and other parts of the country now sell more than 75% of all foods that are adulterated. In addition, more than 80% of fruits, 60% of vegetables, 70% of rice, and 60% of both branded and open edible oil are dangerously adulterated now. Food adulteration has been marked as one of the main reasons for the rise of cancer, and damaging vital human organs like the liver, kidney, and heart as per the research conducted by the Ministry of Health. It is also affecting children’s mental and physical growth. Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) disclosed that more than 4.5 million people in the country are at health risk from consuming adulterated and contaminated food every year, and due to this, 16% of the population are kidney patients, according to the Health Directorate of Bangladesh. Food adulteration is an offence of public nuisance as per Sections 272 and 273 of the Code, which is damaging the fate of present and future generations. Dishonest traders, importers and manufacturers, cultivators and processing agencies are involved in these unethical practices.
Adulteration of Drugs:
Whoever adulterates (lessens the efficacy or changes the operation of such drug or medical preparation, or makes it harmful) any drug or medical preparation for the purpose of selling or knowing it to be likely that it will be sold or used for, any medicinal purpose and whoever knowingly sells, or offers or exposes for sale, or issues from a dispensary for medicinal purposes is guilty of public nuisance under Sections 274 and 275 of the Code. Pharmaceutical drug adulteration is widespread in Bangladesh, which is not only injurious to health but also pushes millions of people to death slowly. It compromises the treatment of chronic and infectious diseases, causing disease progression, drug resistance, and death.
Making Atmosphere Noxious to Health:
Whoever willingly impairs the atmosphere of any place to make it harmful to the health of people who live there or carry on business in the neighbourhood or pass along the public way is guilty of public nuisance under Section 278 of the Code. The following activities that cause to debase the atmosphere of any public places are the offences of public nuisance.
Air Pollution Due to Brick kilns, Surface Dust and Sand, Vehicle Emission – 85% of Dhaka’s air pollution is caused by brick kilns, surface dust and sand, and vehicle emissions. Exposure to high levels of air pollution is causing breathing difficulties, cough, lower respiratory tract infections, depression, and other health conditions as per the report of the World Bank. The air quality of Dhaka City is hazardous according to the Air Quality Index (AQI). In Ram Raj Singh v. Babulal, the accused carried on a trade that involved crushing bricks through a brick crusher machinery, which resulted in the emission of a large quantity of dust in the surrounding areas. The victim, a medical practitioner, lived neighbouring the accused’s premises. The victim complained that the dust emitted as a result of the accused’s trade was detrimental to his and his patient’s health. In this case, since numerous people were involved, the accused’s act constituted a public nuisance and the court issued an injunction order against the defendant and granted special damages to the victim.
Smoking in Public Place – Air pollution from cigarettes is 10 times the emissions from diesel car exhaust. Tobacco smoke produces fine particulate matter, which is the most dangerous element of air pollution for health. “Cigarette filters pollute our oceans, rivers, city sidewalks, parks, soil and beaches every year,” said Dr Ruediger Krech, Director of Health Promotion at WHO. Smoking in “public places and public transport” is a regular thing in Dhaka City despite the fact that smoking in public places and public transport is a punishable offence under the Smoking and Tobacco Products Usage (Control) Act 2005. In K Ramakrishnan v. State of Kerala (1999), the Court declared that smoking in any form in public is a public nuisance. Smoking is harmful to the public at large and is, thereby, fulfilling the requisites of public nuisance.
Honking Beyond Prescribed Limit – It is definitive for the residents of Dhaka city to experience horns in their everyday lives. Horn causes deafness, anxiety, and high blood pressure. Honking horns beyond the prescribed limit causing injury, and disturbance to the public, is a punishable offence under section 290 of the Code. In Ramlal v. Mustafabad Oil and Oil Ginning Factory, the Court observed that once it is determined that the noise exceeds the threshold required to be responsible for public nuisance, it is not a valid defence to argue that the noise originated from lawful activity. Dhaka is the most noise pollution city in the world as per the United Nations Environment Programme.
Rash driving or riding on a public way:
According to the Bangladesh Road Safety Foundation’s (RSF) annual report, at least 6,284 people died, and 7,468 others were injured in road accidents between January and December 2021, compared to 5,431 people dead and 7,379 injured in road collisions in 2020. Reasons for the increase in traffic accidents include: Reckless driving, excessive speed, forced overtaking, violation of traffic rules, illegal and dangerous competition, long hours of non-stop driving, driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, driver incompetence, dangerous roads, careless bike riding, ineffective traffic control system. Rash driving or riding on a public way creates criminal damage to roads, other vehicles and surrounding property, and injury and death to the public, which is an offence of public nuisance according to Section 279 of the Code. In the State By J.C. Nagar P.S. v Santanam, 1997, the accused, a military personnel, drove a military truck in a zigzag manner and struck and killed a moped driver then hit an auto-rickshaw causing damage to it. The autorickshaw driver chased the truck in another auto-rickshaw and saw him hitting a compound wall and a grille. The High Court of Karnataka held that the truck driver was guilty of public nuisance.
Danger or obstruction in public way:
An analysis of five years (2011-2015) of crash data showed that unpredictable pedestrian crossings, violations of traffic signs, exceeding speed limits, fast traffic at intersections, overtaking on curves, etc., reflect highway vulnerabilities that are the causes of danger, obstruction or, injury in any public way or line of navigation, which is an offence of public nuisance as per Section 283 of the Code. Statistics showed that Bangladesh has the highest road fatality rate, with over 50 fatalities per 10,000 road vehicles.
Knowingly or unknowingly, we all are guilty of public nuisance. Ignorance of the law is not a valid ground for the defence of a case in our legal system. Neither the concerned authority nor the people can give any dispensation for not obeying the law. Tolerance is an important concept that helps people to live together peacefully, however, our tolerant attitude towards public nuisance is making our life miserable as well as harmfully affecting our life, health, and property as a whole. To enjoy a clean, healthy and disturb-free public life and environment, we must act as responsible citizens and do our part in keeping the environment clean and peaceful.
 Ak Mohiuddin. The Mysterious Domination of Food Contaminants and Adulterants in Bangladesh. Int J Environ Sci Nat Res. 2019; 16(3): 555941. <https://juniperpublishers.com/ijesnr/IJESNR.MS.ID.555941.php>
 SABIHA AKTER SEEMA, ‘Road Accident: A Major Concern of Bangladesh’ Centre for Governance Study, 18 May 2022. <https://cgs-bd.com/article/9009/Road-Accident–A-Major-Concern-of-Bangladesh>