FINDINGS of four studies carried out in the past three years that say more than 40 canals of the capital city have been converted into box culverts and roads and have been occupied for government projects are gravely worrying. The studies that the National River Conservation Commission, the Dhaka Water Supply and Sewerage Authority, the Centre for Environmental and Geographic Information Services and the Institute of Water Modelling conducted also say that Dhaka’s supply water agency has narrowed nine other big canals into concrete channels in the name of renovation. The studies also name big businesses and individuals as grabbers of the city canals. The situation at hand has left an adverse impact on drainage and harmed the water recharging process. The situation has reached such a height that it seems, as a civil engineering teacher of the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology who worked out the master plan of the Hatirjheel beautification project says, that government agencies fail to understand the need for the protection of the canals and this is why they have destroyed the canals by turning them into box culverts and roads and erecting other structures on them, leaving the city and its people to face an acute water stagnation problem caused by a bungled drainage.
While the conversion or illegal occupation of the canals has harmed the city’s drainage, causing a serious water stagnation problem, with the canals having disappeared, the underground water table of the city has started depleting fast because of an over-extraction of underground water for an estimated 15 million people of the city in the event of a dying natural water recharging mechanism. Twelve canals are reported to have been converted into box culverts, since the late 1980s, with roads running over them, purporting to retain the canals as drains but without the maintenance of the culverts, which are mostly now blocked with dirt and construction materials, slowing down their draining capacity. The Dhaka District Council, the undivided Dhaka City Corporation, Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha and the National Housing Authority have laid out roads by dirt-filling, partially or completely, six of the canals while 20 others have been used for irrigation in the Dhaka-Narayanganj-Demra area. The supply water agency narrowed nine canals by a half into concrete channels over a decade. The Dhaka deputy commissioner’s office, the National Housing Authority, Gas Transmission Company Ltd and Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha, which is meant to oversee the development of the capital city, have all either grabbed or blocked canals partially or fully, letting private entities and individuals to follow in their footsteps.
The government has over the years carried out studies one after another, worked out master plans, even named grabbers and resolved to reclaim the occupied canals and land and restore the original character to opens spaces and wetlands. But nothing tangible has happened as agencies responsible for the management of the issues have themselves grabbed land, allowing private entities to step in, and remained silent about others having occupied and grabbed canals and land. There are a number of laws such the Canals Act 1864, the State Acquisition and Tenancy Act 1950, the Open Space and Wetland Conservation Act 2000 and the Bangladesh Environment Conservation (Amendment) Act 2010. Yet, the occupation and grabbing have continued. While the government must enforce the laws, the agencies responsible must behave and reclaim the occupied canals.
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