THE encroachment on the 40-foot Jirani canal, now reduced to 17 feet, by government agencies and influential quarters speaks of a sorry state of most of the city canals. The Dhaka South City Corporation constructed a 15-foot road on the canal disregarding the demarcation pillars set by the Dhaka Water Supply and Sewerage Authority, which was the custodian of city canals then. Dhaka WASA seeks to say that it has asked the south city authorities not to construct the road but the local councillor and other political leaders and city corporation officials went on with the project that narrowed the canal affecting its water flow. The south city authorities, now, along with north city authorities, custodians of Dhaka canals, however, seek to explain that the canal was around 22–60 feet wide on different locations and Dhaka WASA embanked the canal on both sides and reduced it to a 16–18 foot drain while residents had gradually dirt-filled the canal over two decades before the road was constructed. Dhaka WASA, under a project financed by the World Bank, is reported to have converted many canals into narrow concrete channels in the past one decade.
All this suggests a lack of coordination among the agencies concerned and an absence of oversight and protection that has led the canals and low-lying areas, which work as a natural drainage system, to a gradual death. Besides rampant encroachment, an unplanned disposal of municipal and kitchen market wastes keeps destroying the canals, polluting the environment, causing water stagnation and adversely impacting public health. There are, as the deputy commissioner’s office record shows, 54 canals in Dhaka while the Institute of Water Modelling has 50 of them in its list and the National River Conservation Commission has 77 canals in its list. Not even a single canal in Dhaka has, as studies show, been free of encroachment and pollution. Encroachment on canals, wetland, flood-flow zones and low-lying areas in and around Dhaka by influential quarters, individuals and even government agencies has already made the capital an unliveable city. Over 22,500 acres of wetland in and around the capital has, as New Age reported earlier, been filled up in 10 years since Dhaka’s detailed area plan came in effect in 2010.
The two mayors of Dhaka on receiving the drainage maintenance responsibility on December 31 vowed that they would restore the canal navigability and evict grabbers. The authorities must restore and protect the canals to stop Dhaka from falling into a chaos. The government must exemplarily punish grabbers who flout the rules and rein in unplanned projects on canals, wetland, flood-flow zones and low-lying areas to make Dhaka a healthy city.
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