IN PLAIN sight, over the past two decades, hundreds of illegal structures have cropped up in the Kaptai Lake of Rangamati district. Most of these structures have sprung up either on the water body or on the ‘khas’ land around the lake without approval from the authorities concerned. Rangamati Municipalities, as reported in New Age on Monday, have only approved 2,032 establishments and there are about 15,555 structures that stand illegally. Even the structures that are approved are either on or around the lake polluting its sweet water. The slums at Islampur, Puranbasti, Chengimukh, Jhulkkyapahar, Jaliapara, Old Bus Stand and Shahidminar area in Reserve Bazar, Chitakhola, DAE office area, forest colony area, Abu Sayed Saw Mill area in Kathaltoli, public health and engineering office area, Rangamati General Hospital and district hatchery areas have been constructed on the lake. In addition to the slums, hotels, motels, dwelling houses and businesses have also illegally occupied the Lake. The incessant encroachment of Kaptai Lake occurring across two decades raises serious questions about the dubious inaction of local administration as well as the government.
Kaptai Lake, the only artificial lake in the country was created as part of the construction of Karnaphuli Hydro-electric power plant on the Karnaphuli River. While the creation of the artificial lake itself affected the preexisting ecological order in the region, the continued encroachment has further aggravated the situation. However controversial the hydroelectric project was for displacing two lakhs ethnic minority people from their homestead, the subsequent encroachments of water body has defied the very objective of the project that is to generate power and fish cultivation. The mindless dumping of solid waste and construction of concrete structure in the Lake area has contributed to the declining of water quality and partly effected the power generation. When asked about the pollution and illegal construction, authorities concerned could not give a conclusive answer. The authorities appallingly maintain that they have no knowledge of illegal holdings as they received no complaints. Clearly, there is reluctance on part of the government to stop grabbing of the Lake and surrounding khas land. Local concerned people claimed that the slums have been built by politically influential people and authorities turned a blind eye either because of their own investments in these businesses or from fear of being vindicated by the groups with political clout.
It is in this situation that the government should intervene directly to stop further destruction of nature and environment in Kaptai Lake area. In doing so, it should immediately produce a list of all illegal holdings built in the stated area and make a concrete eviction plan with clear directive on the relocation of people who are living in the slums. In order to prevent future encroachments, grabbers should be brought before the environmental court for that they have polluted the Lake, and compromised the ecological conditions in the area for their personal gain and profit.