AN ASTOUNDING number of people that the National River Conservation Commission in a preliminary inquiry finds to have grabbed rivers — banks, foreshores and the river proper — suggests that the whole affair has so far been celebrations of corruption, involving powerful quarters who have enjoyed political and moneyed clout during successive governments and government officials who are custodians of the rivers. The commission which sought lists of individuals and enterprises that have grabbed rivers across Bangladesh from the 64 deputy commissioners has come up with a list of 29,459 grabbers, that too in 41 districts, or about two-thirds of the districts. The commission is yet to receive data from deputy commissioners of 23 districts, or about a third of them, which would certainly increase the number of grabbers in a large measure as the districts include Dhaka, Sylhet, Barishal, Rangpur, Mymensingh, Narayanganj and Gazipur where industrialisation and urbanisation have either been going for long or started taking place rapidly. Dhaka has asked the Inland Water Transport Authority, the Water Development Board and the Water Supply and Sewerage Authority to send their lists. Panchagarh and Gaibandha have informed the commission that there is neither any river flowing through the districts nor are there canals and water bodies there.
The commission, which appears to be strong this time after it asked the deputy commissioners on February 4 to complete the task on a High Court Division’s order of February 3, is reported to have resolved to keep reminding the non-compliant deputy commissioners of the issue until they send the lists. But Sylhet, Rangpur, Mymensingh, Gazipur and Bogura claim to have already sent the lists which have not so far reached the commission. This leaves the government with the task to look into why the lists have not reached the commission. The government is also to look into why Panchagarh and Gaibandha refuse to acknowledge the existence of any rivers there while the erosion of rivers and flooding caused by the overflowing of rivers have so far been reported in the districts. Barishal, which is still preparing the list, says that it was sifting out people who have erected structures on the rivers with permission of the Inland Water Transport Authority. But permission of the Inland Water Transport Authority does not always make structures erected on the rivers legal as has been evident during the demolition drives along the four rivers that flank the capital Dhaka.
The commission must needs have an exhaustive list of all entities that have encroached on the rivers and then draw up a comprehensive plan, in a holistic approach, to reclaim the rivers and restore them to their original character. Rivers are public property and they can in no way be privately owned, not even a portion. While the commission must look into all these issues, the government must also shelve out the required funds for the reclamation and the conservation of the rivers. The allocation for the 2019 financial year, which was a meagre Tk 7.5 million, is reported to have already been spent on demolition drives in the 64 districts. The government must increase the allocation in the forthcoming budget for this purpose. It needs to pay for what it has so far done.
Want stories like this in your inbox?
Sign up to exclusive daily email
More Stories from Editorial