RIVERS are faced with a slow death across Bangladesh. The illegal occupation of river land and indiscriminate disposal of industrial and municipal wastes into the rivers are considered prime reasons for the current state of the rivers. While discussions revolve round the conditions of the rivers that flow by the capital, rivers elsewhere are in no better shape. Cadastral Survey records say that the River Ichhamati that flows through Pabna had 88.58 acres of riverbed, but the area has now reduced to 54.53 acres, as found in the 2013 Bangladesh Survey records. Patuakhali, Pirojpur, Cumilla and Gazipur have lost a significant area of riverbed to encroachment. In this context, the eviction drive that began on Monday against 44,000 illegal structures to reclaim river land is welcome. During the drive, the authorities pulled down 139 illegal structures along the River Gumti in Comilla and 70 structures along the 3.10km Ramchandpur canal in the capital. The government says that the eviction would continue until all illegal structures are dismantled. The government should also consider an effective plan to prevent future encroachment on the reclaimed land.
Encroachers are found to have occupied the reclaimed land in the past as the eviction has not been backed up by administrative action to sustain the reclamation. There are also instances where encroachers having political clout have managed to evade the eviction. In January, the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority reclaimed parts of the encroached land of the Buriganga and the Turag. The authorities appeared hesitant when it came to pulling down a power plant owned by a ruling party lawmaker. On March 7, authorities demolished 60 structures on the river in Keraniganj, but the power plant was left untouched, proving yet again that the government has been selective in enforcing laws. The current eviction drive should, therefore, be executed without political interference. The National River Protection Commission can play an effective role in monitoring government activities. Eviction alone cannot protect the river from encroachers. There is the need for a long-term plan to maintain control of the recovered land with provisions for the relocation and rehabilitation of low-income people; encroachers will, otherwise, keep returning to the land.
The government made many decisions and conducted a countless number of eviction drives in the past. Court also issued many important directives, asking the government to criminalise river encroachment and disqualify grabbers from getting bank loans and participating in elections. Yet, water governance remains a case of misgovernance in Bangladesh. The major challenge for the government is to carry on with the drive as promised and effectively execute the plan that it has made to prevent future encroachment on the reclaimed land.
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