THE River Buriganga, the ecological life line of the capital city, faces a slow death. An unchecked discharge of untreated industrial effluents and the city sewage into the river has left a part of the river biologically dead. It is in this context the High Court on Monday admonished the Dhaka Water Supply and Sewerage Authority for partly washing its hands of the matter in a report submitted to the court in which the agency said that 16 of the 67 drains that open into the Buriganga fall under the agency’s jurisdiction. The High Court in June 2011, on a writ petition filed on May 6, 2010, directed the government to seal off the openings in a year to save the river from being polluted. The agency, along with city authorities, has traded blame and the court order has not been implemented. The authorities have not complied with the court order and on Monday falsely reported that there were no sewers opening into the river and only 16 of them still discharging waste are under their jurisdiction.
The drains that the city authorities laid out are, in fact, linked to the sewer system and it is the responsibility of the agency to ensure that the system causes no environmental damage. In 2012, the agency prepared a sewerage master plan, proposing 11 sewage treatment plants in and around the city. Most of them, however, are still in planning stages. Such protraction indirectly encourages the illegal use of the sewers. The High Court also directed the environment department to close 25 factories and two private hospitals on the bank of the Buriganga for running without environmental clearance. It is assuring that of the 25 factories, as the department has reported to the court, 18 factories on the river banks have recently been closed. The authorities should now ensure that the factories without chemical effluent treatment plants and environmental clearance are not back in operation. The National River Conservation Commission should a significant role in monitoring the situation.
The failure of successive governments in protecting the River Buriganga, as well as other rivers, is a failure to perform their mandated constitutional obligations as Article 18(A) of the constitution says that the state will endeavour to protect and conserve rivers, wetland and forests. In view of its constitutional obligation, the government must ensure that the Water Supply and Sewerage Authority implements the High Court directives with no further delay. The government must also provide the River Conservation Commission with the required power to effectively act as a monitoring agency to protect the rivers.
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