ECOLOGICAL integrity of the nation and livelihood of larger population are dependent on the rivers of Bangladesh. The slow deaths of many rivers have already manifested adverse impact on our climate. After many directives from the High Court and years of advocacy of environmental groups, the government has taken an initiative to make a list of all river encroachers across the country. Earlier in February, the National River Conservation Commission asked district commissioners to prepare a list of all involved in illegal occupation of water bodies including river, canal, and pond. In compliance with this request, the district administration of Dhaka sent a list of 959 grabbers to the commission that shockingly included Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority and Dhaka South City Corporation. However, the district administration found no encroachers in five rivers that have been named as endangered rivers for years. In the case of River Turag, Balu, Shitalakya and Dhaleswari authorities said these rivers are free of illegal occupation. Meanwhile, no report of grabbers came in from Tejgaon, Ramna and Lalbagh circles. Considering the disappearing canals and dying conditions of rivers in Dhaka, green activists found the list incomplete and rightfully termed it as a testament to the inefficiency of the authorities concerned.
The number of encroachers mentioned for River Burganga made the list particularly controversial. In recent years, environmental research and media report have revealed how the illegal structures on this river have obstructed the natural flow; the water pollution that followed the grabbing has turned its water almost biologically dead. Yet, the list does not mention names of 33 dockyards developed over the years choking the Buriganga at Mirer Bagh, which were given one year time in June by the shipping ministry to leave the place. It is however not surprising that the list failed to reflect the reality since custodians of water bodies such as Dhaka South City Corporation found guilty of the same. The city authority has illegally developed a bazar and a gymnasium on portions of the Dholai Khal that still flows through RM Das Road and Tanuganj Natun Rasta area in Old Dhaka. Similarly civil society organisations known for preaching environmental rights are identified as river encroachers. For example, Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee has occupied water bodies in Amin Bazaar area for its sister organisation, BRAC University. What is evident in the situation related above is the half-hearted commitment of all concerned stakeholders and it is deeply disconcerting. The claim of green activists that the districts offices have a stake in it also rings true.
The government, under the circumstances, must recognise that protecting our rivers is their mandated constitutional obligation as the Article 18(A) of our constitution clearly states that the state shall endeavour to protect and conserve river, wetland and forests. It must therefore ensure that a thorough list of river encroachers is made avoiding political influence and due legal steps are taken against them to prevent future encroachment.
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