THE River Buriganga, the ecological life line of Dhaka, is faced with a slow death. A photograph that New Age published on Monday paints a grim picture as it shows unchecked dumping of polythene bags and rubbish afloat in the river near Gudaraghat at Keraniganj. Untreated industrial effluents discharged into the river indiscriminately have left the river biologically dead as the level of dissolved oxygen, which is must for aquatic life, becomes very low. A major share of the sewage is also dumped into the river through storm sewers connected to the Buriganga. Dockyards have run illegally for decades encroaching on the river on a stretch from Kholamora at Keraniganj to Dharmaganj in Narayanganj. A faulty demarcation of the river by their custodians, including two district administrations, the Inland Water Transport Authority and the environment department, has furthered the scope for encroachment. Despite court directives for the enactment of laws and making policy decisions, the authorities concerned have failed to address the issues that contribute the death of the Buriganga.
The failure of successive governments in protecting the Buriganga, as well as other rivers in the country, is a failure to perform their mandated constitutional obligations as Article 18(A) of the constitution clearly states that the state shall endeavour to protect and conserve river, wetland and forests. Other laws — the Bangladesh Water Act 2013, the National River Protection Commission Act 2013 and the Environment Conservation Act, 1995 — also constitutionally obliges the government to protect the rivers. However, the government has not taken the issue of protecting the river seriously. It has remained reluctant to enforce laws in this regard. In most cases, eviction drives by the Inland Water Transport Authority against dockyards exclude the ones owned and run by politically influential people. Industrial units situated near the Burganga have been in operation without chemical effluent treatment plants, yet they rarely face any penalty. In the face of pressure from green activists, the law to constitute a national river commission was enacted; but it has not structurally evolved to play an effective role. In 2012, Dhaka WASA prepared a sewerage master plan, which proposed 11 sewerage treatment plants in and around the city. However, most of these STPs are still in conceptual or planning stages, indirectly encouraging the illegal use of storm sewers. In the case of the Buriganga, there are laws, but they are not enforced to save the river.
In many ways, the economic and ecological integrity of Bangladesh is dependent on the river system. As an agricultural economy, the livelihood of the majority of the citizens is dependent on rivers. The slow death of many small rivers has already had adverse impact on the climate. It is, therefore, time that the government took issues of river management seriously and protected rivers from illegal encroachers, errant industrial owners by strictly enforcing the laws.
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