IT IS disconcerting that a judicial inquiry committee set up to identify illegal structures on the River Turag found 30 illegal structures built by 30 individuals and companies on the river. Gazipur chief judicial magistrate, as New Age reported on Friday, carried out the investigation as directed by the High Court and submitted the report on October 11. The investigation found that some people and their companies having political clout had grabbed 17km stretch of the Turag and its embankment in Gazipur, rebuilding boundary pillars in collusion with contractors appointed by public works department to demarcate the river boundary. The High Court ordered the investigation on a writ petition filed by the Human Rights and Peace for Bangladesh. It is known to all that encroachers have a tendency to grab any river in the absence of monitoring over the river and construct shanties and half-brick houses. Needless to say, also this filling up blocks the flow of its water. The existing laws to protect water bodies and rivers do not allow filling up of rivers and natural canals. According to the environment law and the Wetland and Open Space Protection Act, any kind of construction of structures inside rivers and canals is illegal.
We have written in these columns time and again that widespread encroachment on the rivers is still continuing, reducing the flow of water on the river and causing the build-up of silt, which ultimately leads to a rising frequency of monsoon floods for Dhaka and other districts and aggravation of water shortage in the dry season. What is more, almost all the major rivers that skirt around Dhaka feeding its groundwater reservoir are being filled up by politically powerful business quarters. While there has been a strong civil society movement in recent years to save the rivers and canals from being choked with encroachment, these efforts have often resulted in temporary reprieve for them but no permanent solution. Some illegal constructions were removed and dismantled only to reappear in no time. Government action had no deterrent effect as we did not hear of any decisive and demonstrative action against the offenders. The High Court’s directive for the government to stop all kinds of encroachment, construction and dirt-filling inside the rivers is, indeed, a welcome move. The government has also been asked on several occasions to explain why it would not be directed to demarcate the original boundaries of the rivers by conducting separate surveys to demolish all illegal structures, and to remove the dirt dumps from inside the boundaries.
While the government is expected to carry out the court’s directive, one hopes that the court would keep a close watch on its activities. Non-compliance with the High Court’s directive should not be an option as it would virtually doom the rivers and canals to death, irreversibly.
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