The National River Conservation Commission has drafted a bill seeking the power to function as an effective and independent commission and to treat grabbing or polluting of rivers as a non-bailable criminal offence.
The draft National River Conservation Commission Bill 2020 seeks to empower the commission to cancel any records of rights or conduct fresh surveys of rivers and also to obligate agencies concerned to take clearance from it while initiating any project near a river.
It has also kept a provision for holding officials of the relevant agencies responsible in case of their helping grabbers obtain any project encroaching on river land.
For grabbing and polluting rivers, the draft proposes both imprisonment, up to 10 years, and financial penalty, up to Tk 10,00,000, through the special river conservation courts.
No river grabber, the bill says, shall be entitled to get any bank loan or participate in any national or local level elections.
The draft bill remained public on the website of the commission till December 10 for seeking public opinions on it.
‘We’ll revise the draft incorporating into it the reasonable opinions and then place it to the Cabinet Division, shipping ministry, water resources ministry, land ministry and public administration ministry for their comments and inputs,’ river conservation commission chairman Md Muzibur Rahman Howlader told New Age on Tuesday.
The draft, he said, has been prepared with the objective to empower the commission, guardian of the rivers, in the light of the Appellate Division verdict passed on February 4, 2020.
The Appellate Division verdict upheld the February 3, 2019 High Court order stating the rivers as living entities and also its 17-point directives to empower the river commission as the authority to protect the country’s rivers.
‘Under the existing River Conservation Commission Act 2013, the commission functions like an agency under the shipping ministry and can’t play an effective role despite taking various initiatives,’ said Human Rights and Peace for Bangladesh president Manzill Murshid, petitioner of a public-interest-litigation case in which the High Court verdict was issued.
Though the commission depends on the shipping ministry for its operations and budgets, section 4 of the draft proposes that the commission itself will place its budget to the Finance Division.
Section 13 of the draft stipulates that the commission will coordinate the relevant ministries, divisions and agencies in case of initiating any project involving any river, dredging of rivers, or freeing them from the grabbers and polluters.
It further stipulates that all the agencies shall place their plans involving any river to the commission and the commission will have the authority to provide any observations or issue any orders, which must be complied with.
Section 17 of the draft bill stipulates that the planning commission and the other agencies concerned shall take no-objection certificate from the commission for any development project near any river, canal or other water body.
Section 18 of the draft provides that grabbing or polluting rivers will be treated as a criminal offence while Section 24 prescribes that no river grabber shall get any bank loan and shall not be eligible for contesting in any national or local elections.
Section 26 forbids any agency to lease out river land or its foreshore to any organisation or individual and the already leased-out such properties must be reclaimed while Section 36 stipulates that no economic zone or factory shall be set up on any river.
Section 33 of the draft proposes that no rehabilitation project shall be undertaken on river land for poor or homeless people while no bridge or culvert shall be constructed over any river, which will be shorter than its width.
In case of conducting any survey of any river, Section 27 stipulates that the deputy commissioners and the director general of the land records and surveys shall submit the reports to the commission.
The commission will have the right to cancel any survey and it can order further survey.
Section 38 of the draft states that any official, if found guilty of doing any river grabber or polluter any favour, will be held accountable to the commission.
Section 84 stipulates that river conservation courts will be formed in all divisional districts and the metropolitan magistrates will be the judges of the courts who will take opinions from assessors.
Section 89 provides that river grabbing will be regarded as a non-bailable offence while Section 90 empowers commission officials or the river police to arrest the grabber for committing any crime punished by imprisonment for a month or above under the purview of the proposed law.
Section 93 of the draft has made a provision for operating mobile courts by the commission.
The draft bill has also a schedule stipulating the nature of the crimes involving rivers and punishments for up to 10 years in jail and Tk 10,00,000 as penalty or both for polluting or grabbing rivers.
‘We want that the grabbers and polluters of rivers should be sent to jail so that such acts are discouraged,’ said River Conservation Commission chairman Muzubur Rahman Howlader.
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