Rift in govt on water supply from Halda

Ershad Kamol | Published: 23:30, Nov 27,2020 | Updated: 19:53, Nov 28,2020


Ministries and agencies are divided over establishing a water treatment plant project to supply 14 crore litres of water daily from the river Halda to the under-construction factories of the Bangabandhu industrial city at Mirsharai, Chattogram.

Local government and rural development ministry and its subordinate agency Chattogram Water Supply and Sewerage Authority strongly advocate for construction of a Tk 3,500 crore plant to supply water from the river to the industries while the water resources ministry, fisheries ministry, department  of environment and river conservation commission strongly oppose the plan.

LGRD ministry and CWASA argue that they got a feasibility study conducted by the Institute of Water Modelling, a public trustee under the water resources ministry, which showed that withdrawal of 14 crore litres of water from the Halda would have no impact on the river.    

Four other ministries and agencies demand a review of the plan and feasibility study for developing another treatment plant arguing it would have a serious impact on Halda’s unique ecosystem that helps carps and other fishes spawn eggs.

They argued that the ecosystem of Halda had already been badly affected for the withdrawal of 42 crore litres of water every day for irrigation and water supply projects as well as the disposal of an unknown amount of industrial effluents from the nearby industries.

The 86-km-long Halda, a major sweet water dolphin habitat in the country, originates from Badnatali Hill Ranges in Khagrachhari and falls into the river Karnaphuli at Kalurghat of Chattogram, they said.

On November 15, the water resources ministry ordered the Institute of Water Modelling to review its study report.

The ministry secretary Kabir Bin Anwar made the decision after getting a study from Chittagong University zoology professor Manzoorul Kibria, reads the letter which came attached with a copy of Kibria’s study.

In his study Kibria proved that the withdrawal of huge volumes of waters from the Halda would seriously affect its unique aquatic ecosystem from where fish farms from across the country collect fertilised carp eggs.

Fisheries minister SM Rezaul Karim told New Age that he would request Bangladesh Economic Zones Authority to review the Halda water plant project and would request to use waters of other rivers for supplying waters to workers and industries of the economic zone. 

‘The decision must be reviewed considering their problems and in the greater interest of the fishery sector of the country,’ said Rezaul, adding that the Halda could never be regenerated and it should be declared as a living heritage.

Department of environment director Fahmida Khanom said that she went through the IWM’s feasibility study and found it incomplete, and also full of self-contradictory statements.

She also added that the study was done based on old data.

Dubbing it a wrong investment Fahmida Khanom said, ‘The river will not be able to supply such a huge volume of water to the country’s biggest industrial zone.’

A detailed environmental impact assessment of the plant must be done before planning to build it on the Halda, she pointed out and also added that the project is being planned at a time while a process is on to declare the river ‘Bangabandhu Biodiversity Heritage Halda’ by the environment ministry.

National River Conservation Commission chairman Md Muzibur Rahman Hawlader said that the commission already held a meeting with the representatives of different agencies, civil society actors, experts and green activists on Tuesday to discuss the issue.

‘We decided to conduct a comprehensive study after forming a team of experts representing different agencies,’ Howlader said.

BEZA Executive Member Mohammed Erfan Sharif said that an estimated 100 crore litres of water will be required daily for workers and industries in the Bangabandhu industrial city, the ‘largest economic zone under construction in three upazials of Chattogram and Feni districts, which would create jobs for 27 lakh workers by the year 2040.’

BEZA would supply water in the economic zone using water of different rivers, underground water as well as through rainwater harvesting and installing plants for filtering brackish water, he said, adding that the agency requested LGRD ministry for developing a treatment plant for instant use in an already developed area in Mirsharai.  

‘We are against the plan of Chattogram WASA, which already has two plants to produce 18 crore litres of water daily for supplying water to Chattogram city dwellers form the Halda, for selecting the river as the source for supplying water at the economic zone’, Chittagong University zoology professor Manzoorul Kibria said.

‘But, we are not against the development of the Bangabandhu industrial zone. We are only trying to make people alert to the fact that such withdrawal of water from the river Halda will leave an adverse impact on its biodiversity,’ said Manzoorul, who has been carrying out research on the river for many years.

Water and irrigation projects should be based on the Feni, Karnaphuli, Muhuri and Meghna rivers, he said adding that IWM over the years produced wrong studies and damaged the natural heritages of the country.

CWASA managing director AKM Fazlullah, however, expressed determination for developing the plant in the Halda. ‘We already submitted a Tk 3,500 crore project to the LGRD ministry after getting a feasibility study done from IWM,’ he said.

‘The plant will have no impact on the river as the average flow in the dry season is 370 cusecs when we will use only 3.7 cusecs water for producing 14 crore litres water daily,’ Fazlullah said.

‘Why don’t the greens protest at the withdrawal of waters from the Halda for the irrigation projects or installing of three rubber dams on the river?’ Fazlullah asked.

LGRD minister Md Tajul Islam also said that he was convinced by the feasibility study done by IWM which says that it will have no impact on the river.

‘We don’t have any other source in the nearby area,’ Tajul said.

IWM executive director Abu Saleh Khan, however, said that the institute would review the study as they had been instructed by the water resource ministry to do so.

‘The senior secretary of the water resource ministry on Wednesday told us to review whether the intake point of the proposed plant could be developed 1.5km downstream towards the confluence of the Halda and Karnaphuli,’ he said.

BEZA executive chairman Paban Chowdhury said they would take the decision after reviewing opinions.

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