A DIFFERENCE of opinion between ministries and agencies over the use of the water of the River Halda for a treatment plant meant to supply 140 million litres of water a day to under-construction factories in the Bangabandhu Industrial City at Mirsarai in Chattogram brings to the fore a few points to ponder. While the local government and rural development ministry and its subordinate Chattogram Water Supply and Sewerage Authority hold brief for the use of the Halda water for the plant involving Tk 35 billion, the water resources and the fisheries ministry, the environment department and the River Conservation Commission are against the plan as this could leave a serious impact on the ecosystem of the Halda, the only natural breeding place of Indian carps such as catla, mrigal and rohita in Bangladesh. While the local government and rural development ministry and the Chattogram supply water agency say that a feasibility study that the Institute of Water Modelling, a government trustee of the ministry, has conducted shows that the withdrawal of 140 million litres of water from the Halda would leave no impact on the river, the ministries and agencies opposed to the plan say that the project will have a serious impact on the 86-kilometre Halda, a major sweet water dolphin habitat, that originates in Khagrachari and falls into the Karnaphuli in Chattogram.
Entities opposed to the plan also say that the Halda ecosystem has been badly affected because of the withdrawal of 420 million litres of water a day from the river for irrigation purposes and two water treatment plants in a situation that is compounded by the discharge of an unknown amount of industrial effluents untreated into the river. They have also demanded a review of the plan and the feasibility study. The environment department further seeks to say that the feasibility study that the Institute of Water Modelling has carried out is incomplete, full of contradictory statements and based on old data. The department’s director also says that the Halda will not be able to supply such a huge quantity of water to the biggest industrial zone of the country. A Chittagong University teacher, who says that the plan will leave an adverse impact on the river and its ecosystem, says that the institute that conducted the feasibility study has produced wrong studies over the years that have damaged natural heritages. A detailed environmental impact assessment of the plan and a review of the feasibility study should, therefore, be done before anything else. But, questions having been raised about the institute’s work, a third-party engagement in the work should be ensured.
While the authorities concerned must not proceed with the intake point for the water treatment plant on the Halda and consider taking the point downstream towards the confluence of the Halda and the Karnaphuli, which is about 1.5 kilometres away, they must also stop taking the Halda water for the current supply water and irrigation projects and opt for the Karnaphuli, the Feni, the Muhuri and the Meghna. Dhaka should, at the same time, complete the water sharing negotiation with New Delhi for the cross-border rivers of the Feni and the Muhuri so that the rivers could come of use in water supply. The authorities should, meanwhile, complete a process, which has been under way, to declare the River Halda as the Bangabandhu Fisheries Heritage.
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