According to the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA), thousands of tons of solid waste remain as sediment in the river bed of rivers surrounding Dhaka, including Buriganga, Turag and Balu
Ignoring rules and violating court orders, industrial waste and domestic sewerage continue to flow indiscriminately into the Buriganga River, making it utterly devoid of oxygen and uninhabitable for aquatic life.
Despite several initiatives taken to shut down pipelines carrying industrial waste and sewage to the river, the authority concerned – Dhaka Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA) – failed to achieve any success in saving the Buriganga from pollution due to negligence and lack of monitoring.
Earlier, the managing director of Dhaka WASA was taken to task by the High Court for failing to take measures to curb pollution in the river in line with previous directives.
According to experts, the Buriganga can be saved if dumping of non-treated sewerage and waste into the river can be stopped and existing waste on the riverbed removed successfully.
“The oxygen level in Buriganga was zero until last year during the dry season due to excessive pollution. That is why we called the Buriganga a biologically dead river, although the water condition nominally improves during the rainy season,” said Prof Shahjahan Mondal from BUET’s Institute of Water and Flood Management.
“Although the tannery industry has been shifted, the water condition of the river did not improve significantly as industrial waste and domestic sewerage continues to be dumped into the river,” he told the Dhaka Tribune.
Over 200 factories dumping waste
According to the Department of Environment (DoE), a total of 232 industries are currently dumping waste into the Buriganga River as they have no Effluent Treatment Plant (ETP).
The DoE has already sent notices to these industries asking them to set up their ETPs, or else their electricity supply will be disconnected.
Last year, electricity supply to 145 industries was snapped for failing to comply with the DoE directive.
Also Read- Can we still save the Buriganga?
Of them, more than 50% have already applied for ETP as their production remains shut.
“It is very difficult to check as many industrialists do not operate ETP to minimize cost. They run ETP only that time when they are informed about the drive by DoE,” said Deputy Minister for Environment Habibun Nahar.
“That’s why we are trying to create a mechanism or even looking for a device to monitor ETP operation from the DoE office,” she added.
Sewage: The major pollutant
According to Dhaka WASA, the sewage treatment plant at Pagla is only capable of handling 20% of the wastewater generated by Dhaka city.
“Due to its low capacity, most of the untreated sewage goes straight into the river,” said Prof Shahjahan.
Sewage treatment is the process of removing contaminants from wastewater, containing mainly household sewage plus some industrial wastewater. Physical, chemical, and biological processes are used to remove contaminants and produce treated wastewater that is safe enough for release into the environment.
Following a petition by a rights body in 2011, the High Court issued a three-point directive for authorities, which included shutting down all drains and sewerage lines connected to the Buriganga River within six months.
On September 14, court rebuked WASA’s Managing Director Taqsem A Khan for “deliberate non-compliance” with the order and for stalling the process by filing affidavits seeking for more time.
The WASA chief was also told to update the court in this regard within a month.
Despite several attempts, Dhaka Tribune could not get a comment from Taqsem, who said he was “too busy.”
AKM Shahid Uddin, a director of WASA, also declined to comment on the matter.
In 2010, Human Rights and Peace for Bangladesh (HRPB) filed a writ with the High Court, seeking an order to stop the pollution of the Buriganga due to the waste dumped into the river from the city’s Shyampur industrial area.
According to the verdict of the court, the water of Buriganga has turned to toxic waste which is harmful for public health.
However, Dhaka WASA failed to implement the order over the years, in response to which the HRPB filed a supplementary petition on January 23 this year.
HRPB President Manzil Murshid, also a Supreme Court lawyer, said; “It’s imperative to shut down all drains and sewerage lines connected to the river to save it.”
Waste sedimentation on the river bed
According to the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA), thousands of tons of solid waste remain as sediment in the river bed of rivers surrounding Dhaka, including Buriganga, Turag and Balu.
“We have done a feasibility study for ensuring the condition of river beds. As per study, there is a huge amount of waste lying on the river beds,” said BIWTA Chairman Commodore Golam Sadeq.
“We are implementing a project to lift up waste from the 156km area of river beds,” he added.
A city of around 15 million people, Dhaka generates approximately two million cubic metres of wastewater every day. The lone sewage treatment facility for the city, in Pagla, has the capacity of treating only 120,000 cubic metres of waste per day.