The riverbeds are filled with silt, sediment and dust particles, causing narrow streams to become narrower
Fourteen small and large rivers – including Atrai, Karatoya, Kakra, Punarbhaba and Dhepa – flow through Dinajpur. However, almost all of them are vanishing due to lack of dredging, unrestrained river grabbers and illegal establishments.
The riverbeds are now filled with silt, sediment and dust particles, causing the narrow streams to become narrower over time. Meanwhile, various crops such as Boro, wheat and corn are being cultivated on the desiccated riverbed.
Some of these rivers look like deserts, where cattle are wandering, and tractors and trucks are plying. Additionally, the encroachment of land by the rivers is also underway with full force. People are constructing buildings and establishments along the banks, posing a threat to the dim existence of the rivers.
However, the good news is that Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA) has started dredging works in the Tulai, Atrai and Kakra rivers. People concerned believe that with this initiative, the moribund rivers of Dinajpur might get back their lost vigor.
The length of these rivers in Dinajpur is approximately 724km. Once upon a time, farmers used water from the rivers to irrigate paddy fields. People had to cross the Punarbhaba river with boat, which can be done now by foot.
In the dry season, the Punarbhaba river is completely dried out. No government after independence has conducted any sort of dredging there. It is filled with sediment now. Farmers are growing Boro, wheat and corn using shallow-machine irrigation.
Moreover, people concerned about rivers believe these rivers will disappear completely if illegal occupation and building of establishments on the banks continue at the current pace.
Dinajpur district is surrounded by the border. Of the 13 upazilas of the district, Punarbhaba sadar, Fulbari, Nawabganj, Birampur, Hili, Birol and Bochaganj upazilas are located in border areas and bounded by rivers.
Though these rivers are slender streams in the rainy season, they become sandy in the dry season. Some of the large rivers have become reduced to canals due to excessive piling of silt, and they have not been dredged once since the country’s independence. Locals who used to earn their livelihood by fishing in these rivers have been forced out as the rivers gradually died.
The small Jamuna river flowing over Birampur and Hili upazilas have become waterless and arid too. The scarcity of water created a crisis among farmers who cultivate crops in nearby farmlands.
Mofazzal Hossain, a resident of Baluadanga village adjacent to Punarbhaba river in Dinajpur sadar upazila, said: “There was a time when this river had strong tides throughout the year. The river was rich in fish and we had enough water for irrigation. But the situation has turned upside-down. Now farmers need money for irrigation and fishermen lost their profession.”
Mobarak Ali Sarker, a local farmer, said: “Earlier, there was a cultivation of 495 acres of land in Hakimpur using water only from Jamuna river. But now the cultivable land has been reduced to 75 acres. Despite having some water in the rainy season, the river is waterless rest of the time. Farmers have to struggle to grow crops.”
Dinajpur Water Development Board Deputy Assistant Engineer Md Nayan said: “Renovation work around 30km of the Shua river in Fulbari and Kaharole upazilas have already started.”
He said: “Tk5.81 crore has been allocated for this project, where several distributaries and canals of the river will be properly dredged to ensure free water flow.”
Siddiqur Rahman, acting officer of the Water Development Board of Hakimpur and Birampur upazila unit, said: “The floor of Jamuna river has been filled with dust particles and sediments due to lack of dredging works in the past 20 years.”
“Multiple structures and establishments have been constructed on the both sides of the river. The government has planning to evict the establishments and stop the encroachments,” he added.
State Minister for Shipping Khalid Mahmud Chowdhury said: “Dredging work in the three Dinajpur rivers have already begun. BIWTA started the river mining through tender. It is unprecedented in a sense that people of Dinajpur have never thought that dredging in their regions’ rivers would ever begin.”