Dhaka city canals are under an imminent threat of disappearance as grabbing of the water-bodies, said to be the veins of the capital, continues amid indifference of government agencies concerned.
Local people have said that not a single canal in the city is free from illegal encroachment and pollution now.
Moreover, the influential grabbers have continued building structures on the canals and filling them up with renewed enthusiasm as dry season begins.
Green activists mention unauthorised land filling, illegal construction over canals and waste dumping as some key reasons behind the sorry state of the water-bodies.
Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha in a recent study found 72,000 illegal structures on flood flow land in the capital.
Urban planners have always sounded warning that without canals Dhaka will not sustain as around two crore people live in the capital without adequate open space, water bodies, utilities and other civic services.
Urban planner Akter Mahmud thinks that city people suffer acutely for waterlogging in rainy season as the canals have been grabbed.
Not only that, he says, if the canals are not restored, Dhaka will lose its liveability as the total ecosystem of the city would be destroyed in the long run, which will lead to disasters.
As per sources in the office of Dhaka deputy commissioner, there were at least 54 canals in Dhaka though the figure varies as per other sources.
Institute of Water Modelling listed 50 canals in the city including Abdullahpur Khal, Baisteki Khal, Baunia Khal, Begun Bari Khal, Boalia Khal, Dakkhingaon-Nandipara Khal, Dhanmondi Khal, Dholai Khal (part-1), Dholai Khal (part-2), Dumni Khal, Gopibagh Khal, Hazaribagh Khal, Ibrahimpur Khal, Kallyanpur Main Khal, Ka Khal, Kha Khal, Gha Khal, Uma Khal, Cha Khal, Khilgaon-Basabo Khal, Boalia Khal, Manda Khal, Kalsi Khal, Kamrangir Char Khal, Katasur Khal, Nandipara-Trimohoni Khal, Mohakhali Khal, Shahajadpur Khal, Paribag Khal, Shajahanpur Khal, Ramchandrapur Khal, Segunbagicha- Arambagh Khal, Rayerbazar Khal Segunbagicha Khal, Sangbadik Colony Khal and Rupnagar Khal.
DC office is the recorded custodian of all the canals although Dhaka WASA maintains 26 canals important for drainage network and Bangladesh Water Development Board maintain 11 canals important for DND dam.
Local people say grabbing continues at all the canals round the year but it gets an impetus during dry season, with government agencies turning a blind eye.
Jahangirnagar University professor Akter Mahmud says that there is no sign of two important canals — Paribagh Khal and Gopibagh Khal — in the city while several other canals verge on disappearance.
Not only individuals but some government agencies like Dhaka city corporation, RAJUK, police, army, land ministry and the others grabbed many canals.
Private realtors also grabbed canals and built multi-storied building.
A report of Dhaka District Council stated that RAJUK grabbed a portion of Bounia Khal at Mirpur. The government agency also grabbed a portion of Abdullahpur Khal and Diabari Khal.
National Housing Authority, City Corporation and Land ministry separately grabbed canals at Mirpur over the years.
Local people said that they suffered from waterlogging this year as all the Mirpur canals were grabbed and they failed to drain out rain water.
RAJUK chairman Abdur Rahman admitted the allegation and said they did not even know that there was a canal in their project area.
A number of private housing projects have been established grabbing Ramchandrapur Khal. Nabinagar Housing, Zemcon City, Mohammadi Housing and Bashundhara Group among others are involved in the projects.
Bashundhara Group also grabbed a part of Vatara Khal, Dumni Khal and two other canals.
Bangladesh Police Officers’ Samabay Samity filled Boalia Khal for their housing project.
Dhaka North City Corporation filled Rupnagar Khal for construction of road while Boalia Khal was grabbed for housing project for police.
Nandipara-Trimohoni Khal is one of the 22 canals under Dhaka South City Corporation which has a very important role in draining out rainwater.
Dhaka south city mayor Sayeed Khokon in February 2017 conducted an eviction drive in cooperation with other agencies and evicted 200 illegal structures including a Zila Parishad Market owned by Dhaka District Council.
He promised to evict all the illegal structures from the canal but no more eviction drive was conducted.
While asked, Sayeed Khokon on Tuesday said that city corporation was not responsible for evicting illegal grabbers or maintenance of the canals.
Dhaka WASA managing director Taqsem A Khan said that they were maintaining 26 canals important for drainage system of the city for years.
Taqsem told New Age that WASA was fighting to maintain the canals evicting the grabbers and excavating the bed of the canals.
He said beside the grabbers, solid waste dumping was a major problem.
‘We cannot keep the flow on to the rivers as immediately after cleaning the canal bed solid wastes block them again,’ he explained.
Solid waste management is a core responsibility of city corporations.
City corporation officials admitted the allegation and said that daily they collected 5,000 tonnes of solid wastes for disposing in two landfills — Aminbazar and Matuil but another half of the solid wastes littering the city haphazardly mostly went to the water bodies.
They have blamed bad habit of the citizen as they dump wastes there.
Dhaka WASA officials said that they were implementing a project worth Tk 600 crore to excavate five canals — Hazaribagh, Baishteki, Kurmitola, Manda and Begunbari Khal — and their maintenance.
They said that under the project Dhaka WASA would acquire 30 acres of land for restoring uninterrupted flow in the canals.
While city canals are disappearing fast, RAJUK took a project for digging a 100 feet canal at Purbachal.
Bangladesh Water Development Board maintains 11 other canals in DND dam area in the capital and Narayanganj.
Rajuk deputy town planner and DAP project director Ashraful Islam said that the water retention areas could not be preserved as they were mostly private properties.
He suggested that only by acquiring private properties the capital’s water retention areas could be preserved.
Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association chief executive Syeda Rizwana Hasan said that individuals could never have the ownership of any canal and if anyone had, he/she did forgery.
Only in collusion with government employees, one could have a canal recorded in his or her name, she said.
The attorney and environmentalist said that the government, if it wanted, still could stop these people from building any structure on the land.
She in December 2017 filed a writ petition in this regard.
Following the petition, the High Court ordered the government agencies to protect the city canal from encroachment and pollution.
It is also asked the government agencies concerned to explain why pragmatic actions would not be taken for recovering and restoring the canals to their original shape.
It also asked the agencies to submit a report on the present situation of the canals. Court set December 13 for the next hearing.
According to a study conducted by three researchers Asif Ishtiaque, Mallik Sezan Mahmud and Mahmudul Hasan Rafi of Calgary University of Canada, canals of Dhaka city are under serious threat of extinction and require immediate recovery actions.
The study report said canals were being encroached in various styles and identifies five reasons behind the present state of the canals — unauthorised land filling, illegal construction over canals, expansion of slums, solid waste dumping, and taking advantage of lack of awareness of local people as well as government agencies.
Environmentalists said existences of canals depend on the reservation of other wet land, river and water retention ponds but the water bodies also facing same threat of disappearance.
Urban planners said not only canals but also water retention zones around the capital were shrinking fast due to land grabbing and unplanned constructions.
As a result, prolonged water logging is occurring in the capital besides causing environmental hazards.
Disappearance of water retention zones would not only further increase the durations of water logging but also cause flash floods in the capital.
They said the water retention zones were filled up as the government agencies took no action.
The capital’s Flood Action Plan and the Detailed Area Plan identified 5,523 acres of water retention areas, 20,093 acres of canals and rivers, and 74,598 acres of flood flow zones for preservation by the government.
The harsh reality is that almost two thirds of the areas have already been grabbed by powerful groups.
According to the estimates of Bangladesh Institute of Planners general secretary Adil Muhammed Khan, over 2,000 acres of flood flow zones disappear every year.
DAP covering 1,590 sq km, adopted in 2010, calls for the preservation of at least 12 per cent of the area for water retention.
The water retention areas identified for preservation included ponds, canals, lakes and other water bodies.
A Rajuk study done in 2017 found the existence of barely 1,744 acres of water retention areas around the capital.
Urban planner Akter Mahmud said that the authorities already neglected their most important responsibility of preserving five identified retention ponds covering 3,542 acres located at points where canals met rivers in the capital.
He expressed fears that the capital was headed for serious environmental and public health crisis.
The government demarcated boundary of the four rivers following a HC order but grabbing continued there as much-discussed high-powered task force did not take any punitive actions against the grabbers.
National River Conservation Commission permanent member Md Alauddin said that the committee held six meeting so far and took some important decisions.
But the taskforce failed to take any pragmatic visible action against the grabbers.
In 2016, Bangladesh Navy had prepared a strategic action plan to reclaim and restore four rivers —Turag, Balu, Buriganga and Shitalakkhya — surrounding Dhaka. But no visible progress was found of the initiative.
The report said Buriganga bed was filled up to 12 feet at places with garbage, especially plastic.
Around 4,500 tonnes of solid wastes are discharged in the river daily, as per the preview report of the strategic action plan.
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