'Even though there was a High Court verdict given to protect rivers, the government and people with vested interests have been reluctant to implement that verdict'
Bangladesh is slowly killing the rivers that gave the Ganges delta the rich soil on which the 160 million people of the country depend on for food, water and habitation, experts said on Thursday.
Speaking at the “Rights of River and Right to River” conference at the Centre on Integrated Rural Development for Asia and the Pacific (CIRDAP), experts said politically influential people and politicians themselves have been taking advantage of institutional weakness by opposing governmental initiatives to protect rivers for their own gain.
“Even though there was a High Court verdict given to protect rivers, the government and people with vested interests have been reluctant to implement that verdict,” said Abdul Matin, the general secretary of the environmental organisation Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon.
“Because of this reluctance, politically influential people are taking advantage and are continuing to kill the rivers.”
Other speakers at the programme said that Bangladesh has failed to protect its rivers due to a lack of effective pressure placed on lawmakers.
“The public representatives are sometimes unable to protect against illegal occupation and pollution that are killing the rivers because they ultimately need their votes,” said MP Tipu Sultan (Barisal-3).
“If the general public do not raise awareness and create public pressure, this slow demise of our rivers is inevitable.”
He also blamed government engineers for building bridges and dams indiscriminately that obstruct the flow of rivers in Bangladesh.
Several delegates at the conference took aim at the perceived weakness of the National River Conservation Commission (NRCC), criticising its failure to organise itself effectively.
“It has been three months and a chairman has still not been appointed,” Sharmeen Murshid, an NRCC member, said. “This commission cannot function with this level of administrative difficulties, weakness and budgetary shortages.”
She also urged the government to introduce a river policy for both the national and international level and to increase budgetary allocation for river-related research.
Chittagong University Prof Manzoorul Islam was another to lambast the commission. “The government must strengthen the NRCC and introduce a separate ministry in this regard,” he said.
Prof Manzoorul also pointed out that there is no consistent statistical information on the rivers of Bangladesh.
“The existing data from different departments of the government often contradict each other. In order to save the country and its biodiversity, we must protect our rivers,” he said.