The 50-kilometre-long Balu River flowing from Gazipur to Narayanganj through the eastern Dhaka city is in peril for massive encroachments by both government and private housing projects and indiscriminate disposal of industrial and domestic sewage into the river.
Locals said that the river, once a major source of water for their household needs and livelihood, turned into a curse as the highly-polluted river water now poses great hazards for public health.
‘Now we cannot use the river water for any domestic purpose. It has become a curse for us as it’s really difficult to live by the river for its acute odor,’ Akhtar Hossain, a resident of Ichhapura beside the river told New Age.
‘Diarrhoea, itching and other water-borne diseases are common among the residents of the localities situated by the river,’ he added.
Sadhon Roy, a resident of Kayetpara, another nearby village, said, ‘Poor people like us hugely suffer as the government disposes of the sewage, discharged by the rich people living in the capital, into the river, which was once the only source of water for us to bathe, wash cloth, and use for other purposes.’
‘Besides, people with money and clout, using force or paying token money, have displaced many locals from the area and grabbed numerous portions of the river channel to develop housing projects and set up business enterprises,’ he added.
Once, they said, the Balu boasted numerous fishes and was an important route for the transportation of farm produces and other goods to the Dhaka, Gazipur and Narayanganj cities.
The river, which falls into the Shitalakkhya River just half a kilometer upstream of the intake point of Sayedabad Water Treatment Plant near Demra, has also emerged as a concern for Dhaka city dwellers as the treatment plant is a major drinking water source for them, National River Conservation Commission chairman Muzibur Rahman Howlader told New Age on Monday.
Dhaka city people complained that the water they received from Wasa supply lines was odorous.
Muzibur further said, ‘Biologically Balu is now a dead river that carries only domestic and industrial effluents from the Dhaka, Gazipur and Naranganj cities in its narrow channel that has been left after the occupation by the government and private encroachers.’
‘Along the 50-km-long river channel, we found no fishing community as the aquatic life, including fish, has disappeared from it. One feels like throwing up while riding a boat in the river even in the monsoon,’ he lamented.
Last December, he said, the commission sent a report about the occupation and pollution of the Balu River to the prime minister’s office, the Cabinet Division and other responsible ministries and agencies.
The report sought actions in the light of the recommendations made by the commission for reviving the river.
Muzibur said that the report was prepared following a visit by a 10-member inter-agency team under his leadership to the 50-km channel of the river in June.
The visit took place after the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority conducted eviction drives against the grabbers as part of its river beautification project surrounding the capital.
‘Hundreds of grabbers still occupy the river,’ he said.
According to the report, the Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha’s Purbachal New Town project, Bashundhara Residential Area, army housing project Jalsiri Abashan are among the several hundred housing projects that were developed on the occupied land of the river’s main channel and foreshore.
A medical assistant training centre and a maternal and children hospital of the government, a private international maritime academy, a bootleg liquor-making factory, brick kilns, garment units, and factories of big businesses such as Crown Cement, Anwar Group, Pran Group are also on the list of grabbers as identified by the commission.
The river commission in its report ordered the Department of Environment for taking action against Babu Garments, Azmeri Garments, Neela Chemical Factory, LED Star Company Limited, Javed-Jubilee Dying and Textile Factory in Gazipur for discharging untreated effluents directly into the river.
According to the report, Crown Cement discharges effluents into the river at Rupganj and some leather factories at Ichhapur and Kayetpara.
The commission ordered the Department of Environment, local government bodies, city corporations, the Dhaka Wasa, district administrations and the police to take measures to control the river’s pollution.
It asked for disposing of domestic effluents from the centre of the capital into the Rashidkhali Canal and Rampura Canal.
It also ordered the city corporations of Dhaka, Narayanganj and Gazipur to stop disposing of solid wastes into and beside the river.
It asked the Local Government Engineering Department, the shipping ministry and the water resources ministry to reconstruct 22 bridges over the Balu and three other Dhaka rivers, which not only chocked those but also hindered the movement of vessels with cargo.
The commission also instructed the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority to cancel the leases it has issued to businesses for developing structures along the Balu River and not to develop any uninterrupted pathways, which would likely permanently separate the river channel from its foreshore and natural floodplains.
In addition, the river commission advised the Department of Land Records and Survey to carry out a fresh Diara Survey of the river and punish its officials who helped the grabbers to encroach on the river.
‘We have recommended measures to the government to bring the Balu River back to life as ordered by the High Court Division in last February following a morphological study of the river,’ Muzibur said.
Local government and rural development minister Md Tajul Islam said that the government was developing a master plan to save the rivers of Dhaka and the Karnaphuli of Chattogram from encroachment and pollution.
Rajuk acting chairman Md Sayeed Noor Alam said that he was not aware of the river commission report that identified the agency as having grabbed land along the Balu River for the Purbachal New Town project.
‘I will look into the matter,’ he said.
Bashundhara Group’s media adviser Mohammad Abu Tayeb said that the realtor established their project only on its purchased land.
‘We have every required document,’ he claimed.
Anwar Group general manager (marketing) Mollah Omar Sharif said that the company never grabbed any government land and hence no question arose of grabbing the river’s land.
The River commission may have mistakenly included their name and tainted the group’s image, he added.
PRAN-RFL Group assistant general manager Zeaul Haque said that they set up all their establishments on purchased lands.
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