IT IS unfortunate that the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority on Wednesday stopped pulling down illegal structures on the River Buriganga’s old channel as it is not shown either in Dhaka’s latest land survey map or in the Dhaka Metropolitan Development Plan. The old channel is shown as private land in the survey done between 1999 and 2010. But the cadastral survey, done in 1924, and the revised survey, done in 1973, clearly show the 6.5km old channel of the river split into two flows separating Kamrangir Char and Jhau Char from Dhaka city. The High Court in its verdict delivered in 2009 directed the government to follow the CS and RS records in eviction drives. The BIWTA needs support from the district administration and the Water Development Board to get the accurate demarcation of the river.
The old channel was navigable from Sadarghat to Gabtali for boats until 1995. The old channel later disappeared rapidly after the government had built a power substation and a 30-bed hospital, followed by hundreds of unauthorised structures erected by politically powerful people. The encroachment on the old channel is said to have begun in 1989 when the Water Development Board constructed embankment inside the old channel, facilitating land grab by influential quarters. The old channel was filled up near Rayer Bazar in mid-1990s for the construction of a women’s medical college and hospital. The entire old channel along with the adjacent low-lying areas from Rayer Bazar to Baroikahli was later grabbed. This section of the old channel now belongs to Sikder Real Estate and the 300-acre area was grabbed with the support from the then government. In 2005, the Power Development Board built a power substation at Company Ghat near Kamrangir Char closing the opposite end of the channel. Consequent on that, many business enterprises developed industrial parks, garages and real estate projects filling up the old Buriganga channel. Corrupt officials of the Land Survey and Records during the survey of Dhaka city from 1999 to 2010 recorded the grabbed old channel as privately owned. The officials in assistant commissioners’ (land) offices at Kamrangir Char and Lalbagh are responsible for mutating this area as property of land grabbers. The old channel has now been reduced to a narrow ditch from Loharpool to Ashrafabad.
The government needs to realise that nobody can allot a river channel to anybody and the entire old channel must be reclaimed in compliance with the court directive as the Buriganga is the lifeline of the capital city. It also must have the individuals responsible prosecuted and punished exemplarily for their alleged corruption.
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