• Tuesday, Nov 19, 2019
  • Last Update : 09:19 pm

Mission: Freeing rivers from encroachers

  • Published at 01:05 am February 7th, 2019
Rivers
File photo of BIWTA's drive to demolish illegal establishments on and evict encroachers from the bank of Buriganga River in Dhaka Mahmud Hossain Opu/Dhaka Tribune

A recent High Court order also made river land grabbers ineligible for bank loans and election participation

With encroachers feasting on river lands all over the country for many years, government has embarked on a full throttle drive to free the river shores from illegal occupants.   

A recent High Court order also made river land grabbers ineligible for bank loans and election participation. 

Bangladesh’s National River Conservation Commission (NRCC), which has long been operating just as a recommending body, also now moves to act as an enforcing authority when it comes to upkeep the decaying rivers.    

Following the High Court order on river safety, the government has intensified a crackdown on river encroachers, with 908 structures removed in Dhaka alone until Wednesday.   

Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA) knocked down 252 illegal structures, including several multistoried buildings built along the Buriganga at Koylaghat and Islambagh of Kamrangirchar.

Confirming the development, BIWTA Joint Director (port) AKM Arif Uddin said they have been conducting the drive three days a week since January 29.

“We are demolishing the illegal establishments on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays,” he said, hoping to end the clampdown by February 19.

The BIWTA will resume its drive from Loharpool area at Kamrangirchar this morning.

Outside Dhaka, Chittagong district administration on Wednesday demolished 40 illegal structures on the banks of Karnaphuli River.

On Tuesday, the BIWTA demolished a three-storey and five two-storey buildings among 255 illegal establishments in Dhaka.

The number of illegal structures pulled down the same day in Chittagong was 30, with numerous establishments demolished in Khulna. In Habiganj, more than 300 illegal structures built near the highway were bulldozed to the ground.

Local district administration led the drive in Khulna while the one in Habiganj was conducted by the Roads and Highways Department.

National River Conservation Commission (NRCC) Chairman Dr Muzibur Rahman Howlader told Dhaka Tribune on Wednesday that political clouts often come into play and manage re-establishing the knocked down structures.

“After repeated calls from the prime minister, now the High Court also insisted on saving the rivers. This time around, nobody will be spared regardless of their political identity,” he warned.

The NRCC chief said that conforming to a High Court directive, his Commission is now preparing a draft for bringing in some amendments to the National River Protection Commission Act, 2013.

“Ever since its inception, the NRCC has been recommending different ministries, government agencies, Cabinet Division and even the PMO, to take stricter measures against land grabbers,” he said.

“But now we want to have the authority of evicting structures, giving punishment or fine or both, and also probing river encroachment,” he said.

Environmentalist Abu Naser Khan, too, praising the crackdown, said: “This kind of drives will have a massive positive impact on rivers, also saving their biodiversity to a large extent.”    

Naser, who is the chairman of Poribesh Bachao Andolon (Poba), blamed the rampant land grabbing on ill political influence and corrupt land officials.

“I believe 90% demarcation pillars were erected well inside the boundaries of the rivers surrounding Dhaka,” he said.

According to him, the countrywide crackdown will greatly stop further attempts to land grabbing.

Suggesting to strengthen NRCC’s capacity, the Poba leader said the government can make the river demarcation process totally digitised.

During Wednesday’s drive Shipping Secretary Md Abdus Samad said they are showing the zero tolerance policy against encroachment on rivers.

After the eviction drive is completed, “we will start constructing walkways on the recovered land.” 

On Sunday, the High Court asked Election Commission (EC) not to allow any individual accused of encroaching on rivers to contest any election, including parliamentary polls.

Directing Bangladesh Bank not to provide any loan to land-grabbers, the court then also ordered the NRPC to submit a compliance report regarding the matter within six months.

Four days earlier, the High Court declared the Turag a ‘living being’, to save it from illegal encroachment, and asked the authorities concerned to remove all unauthorized structures from the river within the next 30 days. 

It also declared the NRPC the legal custodian of all rivers and canals in the country. 

How many illegal structures along Buriganga?

Before the drive, the BIWTA had estimated the number of illegal establishments on the banks of the Buriganga to be a little over 900.

But a BIWTA official said the estimation was quite old, and the number might be higher by now.

“Though there is no exact figure of the structures right now, from the experience of the drive for the last few days I guess they would exceed 2,000 in number,” he maintained.

Govt office, local MP’s establishments demolished

During the BIWTA drive on Tuesday, several semi-concrete structures owned by Awami League lawmaker from Dhaka-7 constituency, Haji Mohammad Selim, were demolished.

Earlier, the BIWTA authorities knocked down a building that housed an office of Bangladesh Telecommunication Company Ltd, said Arif. 

Tk 800 crore project to save Dhaka rivers

Md Jahangir Alam Khan, senior information officer of the Shipping Ministry, said a project involving around Tk800 crore is being implemented to save the rivers around Dhaka.

The project was undertaken in the second quarter of the current fiscal year, he recounted.