River conservation must be a development priority

Published: 00:00, Sep 29,2020


MANY development projects, particularly in the energy sector, are taken without considering the environmental laws and regulations in the country and the case of three power plants illegally constructed on river lands proves this point. In an online conference with divisional commissioners and deputy commissioners of 64 districts, the chairman of the National River Conservation Commission has raised concern about the power plants built on encroached river lands in Mymensingh, Jamalpur and Barguna and asked the authorities to take urgent steps. The commission has visited all the sites and found that the plants are being built by grabbing river land, foreshore, floodplain and coastal forest areas and submitted reports to the prime minister’s office, cabinet division and power division recommending that the land lease agreement with the companies be cancelled. Despite a High Court directive that the government under no circumstance can lease out river land to anybody, the power division, as it appears, is stalling the process of making any decision in this regard.

What is particularly disconcerting is the fact that these power plants are there after securing permission from the power development board. The officials of the ISO Tech claimed that the company had been developing the plant on its purchased land and had received a no objection certificate from the government. The existing environmental laws and regulations generally require any power plant project to undergo environmental impact assessment before approval. Two of the three plants in question are joint venture companies and entertain foreign investment in its construction. Therefore, it is more likely that the government bodies involved are all in the know of the violations. The fact that the illegally built plants earned a no objection certificate raises serious question about the government’s commitment to issues of river conservation. The delay in implementing the recommendations of the river commission, as the green activists suggest, is because politically influential quarters, even the law makers, are allegedly implicated in the illegal construction of power plants. The CLC Power Company, partly built on the Turag-Buriganga confluence and owned by a ruling party parliament member, is a glaring example here.

For the government to prove its true commitment to environmental issues, it must therefore immediately act on the recommendation made by the river commission, that is, cancel the land lease agreement with the companies at stake. In so doing, the government must give the commission statutory power and autonomy so that its recommendations are immediately acted on and it could effectively take actions against illegal encroachers.

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