THE government coming to prepare and publish a list of 49,558 grabbers of rivers across the country is a welcome first step to save the rivers. While responding to a query, the state minister for shipping told parliament on Thursday that the district-wise river grabber’s list has been prepared by the deputy commissioners and has been published in the website of the National River Conservation Commission. The list reveals that Chattogram division has the highest number — 18,411 in total — of river grabbers, while there are 7,582 grabbers in Dhaka division, 7,218 in Khulna division, 2,044 in Sylhet division, 5,611 in Barishal division, 2,783 in Rajshahi division, 2,414 in Rangpur division and 3,495 in Mymensingh division. While it is heartening that the government has come at long last with a list of grabbers, the government and its agencies relevant seem to have done very little in the past to save the rivers from encroachment, the major reason behind the death of the rivers.
The list, when published partially in September 2019 by the National River Conservation Commission, drew criticism from green activists for not being an exhaustive one. The list of Dhaka district, for example, was criticised by experts to be an incomplete one as it claimed that there was no encroacher in five rivers including River Turag, Balu, Shitalakya and Dhaleswari that have been named as endangered rivers because of encroachment and waste disposal. Moreover, no grabber was reported from Tejgaon, Ramna and Lalbagh circles which appear to be quite unconvincing considering the disappearing canals and water bodies in those areas. In the latest list, the number of grabbers in Dhaka remains the same suggesting that the list has not been updated. It can reasonably be surmised that the list of grabbers in other districts is also not a complete one. Further worrying is that among the list of grabbers there are a number of government agencies. However, the listed number reveals, what the National River Conservation Commission admitted, that the whole affair of encroachment has so far been celebrations of power and corruption, involving powerful quarters during successive governments, who are custodians of the rivers. In response, different government agencies so far have occasionally run eviction drives; but once the drives are over, most of the grabbers return to the sites foiling the intended impact of the eviction drives.
The government, under the circumstances, must take a holistic and unbiased approach to save the rivers across the country from encroachment. In so doing, it must have an exhaustive list of all grabbers, public and private, and draw up a comprehensive plan and effectively execute it to reclaim the rivers.
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