AN UNABATED pollution of the River Karnaphuli in Chittagong and the channels connected to it, caused by the daily discharge and dumping of toxic chemical, solid and municipal wastes, has now exposed the river and its surroundings, along with its environment and the large number of people that the river supports, to a great threat. If the unabated pollution is not controlled with effective measures immediately, the river could soon reach the stage of the almost dead River Buriganga that ‘stands’ by the capital Dhaka. The Karnaphuli, with its pitch-black water and bad odour, makes the air heavy near Firinghee Bazar Bridge Road, Fisheries Ghat, New Chaktai Road and Sadarghat. Black sewage flowing through the city channels falling into the river has already decreased the dissolved oxygen level, seriously harming ecology and the aquatic life. Municipal wastes from the Chaktai wholesale market and industrial wastes, mostly untreated, from small factories and plants along the riverbank at places such as Chandraghona, Kaptai, Sadarghat, Kalibari, Stand Road, Majhir Ghat and Bangla Bazar has only compounded the situation, almost choking the river at places. This has been happening despite environmental laws being in place and growing concern about the deplorable condition at least for some years.
With researchers and green campaigners sounding a warning against the pollution of and encroachment on the river for some time now, the authorities have yet to take any steps to save the river. The High Court in August 2016 asked relevant authorities — the environment department, the police and the deputy commissioner of Chittagong — to ask, through newspaper advertisements in a week, the owners of 2,181 structures earlier identified to have been set up illegally on the riverbank to remove them on their own in 90 days and to dismantle the structures if the owners did not comply with the notice. Nothing in this direction has so far taken place. Environment officials, however, sought to explain their inaction saying that they were yet to receive the copy of the High Court order. The indolence, which seems to be collusive, tends to show that they would not lift a finger to protect the river and its environment unless the court pushes them into doing so. The environment officials are there to stop pollution of environment on their own, not after being asked by the court. Environment officials said that they were trying to install effluent treatment plants at industrial units in a few months, but there are hardly any reasons to believe that they would do so if they were not pressed into doing this.
The government, under the circumstances, must wake up to the reality of and concern about the Karnaphuli pollution and take early steps in this regard. The unabated pollution of the river and its surroundings will not only make the Karnaphuli a dead river, but will also spell an end to the communities that depend on the river for their livelihood. People must also raise their voice for the government to do so.
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