Experts say the growing trend of land grabbing has put Dhaka under massive threat
At least 3,483 acres of water bodies and lowlands across the metropolitan area in Dhaka have been filled up in the last nine years, causing concern among experts and environmentalists.
Concerned by the earth filling in the name of development, the experts have said the government and its relevant agencies must take a strong position against land grabbers.
Speaking at a media briefing on the situation of filling up of water bodies in Dhaka and its surrounding areas, violating the city’s Detailed Area Plan (DAP), they said the government must also take proper and strict measures in restoring the water bodies and wetlands.
The briefing took place on Thursday at the Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) office in Dhaka.
Speaking at the event, the environment experts expressed their resentment as a number of government agencies, along with private organizations and individuals, have filled in many water bodies, low-lying areas, canals and rivers not only in and around Dhaka, but across the country.
However, they did not categorically list how much wetland areas have faced earth filling or grabbing by the government agencies.
Presenting a study on the topic, Adil Mohammad Khan, general secretary of Bangladesh Institute of Planners, said that Dhaka city has lost 36% of its water bodies to earth filling, considering the DAP adopted for the capital in 2010.
The parts of the city under the jurisdiction of Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkah (Rajuk) had 100,937 acres of water bodies and lowlands nine years ago, but 22% of those – 22,156 acres – have been filled up since then, greatly contributing to the perennial water-logging issue, he said.
However, the study, prepared based on satellite images, did not identify the land grabbers, he said, pledging that their identities will be confirmed and disclosed in the next report.
Adil requested the government agencies responsible for protecting and monitoring the water bodies to publish an annual report, with the officials concerned held accountable for their duties.
Citing the rampant and growing trend of land grabbing and environmental degradation, TIB Executive Director Iftekharuzzaman said Dhaka is facing an existential threat.
“If the authorities responsible are being negligent in duty, people have to raise their voices,” he said.
“There is no scope of having faith (on action or pledges against the accused). Many in the government and in the administration do not want the rule of law to be in place,” he viewed.
Iftekharuzzaman attributed the current situation to the parliament, where 62% of the lawmakers are actually businessmen, saying: “Now we can see the negative impact of having so many businessmen representing (the people) in the house. Businessmen, in association with the administration and politicians, harm the environment.”
Building public consensus emphasized
The TIB chief suggested dissolving the tripartite syndicate and building public consensus to this end.
Welcoming the High Court orders on the illegal BGMEA building and Modhumoti housing project, Iftekharuzzaman said the problem is that the government is not proactive in fighting the land grabbers.
He also went on to say that the mindless earth filling and grabbing of water bodies clearly depict that irregularities have taken an organizational shape in the country.
Iftekharuzzaman said an upcoming revised DAP must address the matter seriously.
Rajuk, which is largely blamed for the sorry state of the water bodies, must be made accountable for the losses incurred, and its activities have to be transparent, he said.
Land grabbers to be punished on the spot
Mubasshar Hussain, former president of Institute of Architects, Bangladesh (IEB), said land grabbers have to be tried and punished instantly on the spot, regardless of their political identity.
He also suggested that a stricter law and tougher watchdog can stop such criminal offences.
“If we can’t go for technology-based monitoring, we will lag behind and will help the culprits to take advantage,” he opined.
Bangladesh Poribesh Andolan (Bapa) Joint Secretary Iqbal Habib said: “We are already late in addressing the issue. I hope the government will take this report into account and in due course, will take necessary measures.”
“The filling of water bodies gained momentum in 1995, and the crisis has been deepening since then,” he stated.
Most water bodies were not marked in the previous development map until the DAP was issued in 2010, leading to the current situation, he said, adding that the authorities concerned should have put emphasis on tech-based surveillance to check the situation.
Feroz Ahmed Kanak, a research associate at the Centre for Environmental and Geographic Information Services, who released another report at the event, said the Amin Bazar landfill is a burning example of grabbing.
It was built on a 52-acre land in 2004, but has expanded over the years to nearly 100 acres, mainly due to the negligence of the authorities, he said.
“Even before the DAP was designed, the dumping yard was not considered as a flood flow zone,” mentioned Feroz.
Jointly organised by TIB, BAPA, BIP, Nodi O Poribesh Unnoyon Parishad, and Bangladesh Environment Lawyers’ Association (Bela), the event was addressed, among others, by BUET Professor Ishrat Islam.