• Tuesday, Aug 11, 2020
  • Last Update : 04:19 am

‘Powerless’ river commission eying law enforcing authority

  • Published at 12:36 am February 8th, 2019
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

The commission, which was formed in 2013 as a recommending body with no statutory power of implementation in the wake of different media reports on rampant river grabbing and pollution, also seeks the authority to start investigation against any perpetrator committing river encroachment

National River Conservation Commission (NRCC) wants to be empowered with the authority to punish encroachers or river polluters, and impose fines.

The commission, which was formed in 2013 as a recommending body with no statutory power of implementation in the wake of different media reports on rampant river grabbing and pollution, also seeks the authority to start investigation against any perpetrator committing river encroachment. 

The NRCC, which is functioning just as an advisory body, has asked to be empowered with the, and also probe river encroachments.

“We want the government to empower us for carrying out anti-encroachment drives, taking action against offenders and preventing any form of river pollution,” NRCC Chairman Muzibur Rahman Howlader said while talking to the Dhaka Tribune.

He further said they also expect to be authorized to file lawsuits seeking damages from the offenders. 

The NRCC chief said the commission must be allowed to operate like other government entities, such as the National Human Rights Commission and the Anti-Corruption Commission.

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

Also Read- Karnaphuli River eviction drives: 170 illegal structures bulldozed, 7 acres of land reclaimed in first phase

“But now we want to have the authority of carrying out demolition work, punishing offenders or imposing fines or both, and also probing river encroachment,” he said.

The NRCC wants to work with complete liberty, without depending on others, he stated. 

The commission since 2014 has been working as a government office, not an independent institution, and has failed to do its work properly because it has no statutory power.

The government already has 14 authorities and agencies involved in different aspects of river management. These bodies, lacking coordination, have no accurate data on the number of rivers crisscrossing the country.

The commission has so far made around 500 recommendations, said its chief, but he could not confirm exactly how many of those were implemented. 

When asked if the commission is acting as a “toothless tiger” as it lacks the authority now to take any action itself, Muzibur ducked the question, claiming: “We have been placing suggestions for action against those responsible, and getting a healthy response from the authorities concerned.”

According to the NRCC head, the commission is linked to at least 11 ministries, the Prime Minister’s Office and even the Cabinet Division, when it comes to placing recommendations for proper action.

Also Read- Mission: Freeing rivers from encroachers

Following a recent High Court directive, the Commission is now preparing a draft for bringing in some amendments to the National River Protection Commission Act, 2013.

“Once the draft is complete, which may take a month, it will be sent to the authorities concerned,” Muzibur Rahman Howlader said.

The commission is preparing a 500-page annual report for 2018, featuring the state of rivers in 58 districts, he informed.

“The report will help get a clear idea about the state of our rivers,” he said.

It will be a second such report after the one published for the year 2015, he added.

The NRCC chief lauded the intensified countrywide crackdown by the government on river encroachment, with at least 1,199 structures demolished and fines worth Tk115,000 imposed until Thursday.

Working at field level against those responsible for land grabbing and river pollution is tough, Muzibur said, adding that political involvement in a number of cases helped the culprits to re-erect structures, contributing to river pollution.

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

Demanding more engagement of Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA) to fight encroachment on rivers, he hoped the situation will improve significantly due to the ongoing drives. 

“We hope that the crackdown will yield tremendous success in two or three months ,” he said.

On Tuesday, several semi-concrete structures owned by the Awami League lawmaker from Dhaka 7 constituency, Haji Mohammad Selim, were demolished along the Buriganga River. Earlier, a building that housed an office of Bangladesh Telecommunication Company Ltd was knocked down.

The High Court on February 3 ordered the NRCC to submit a compliance report on river encroachment within six months.

In the order, the court also asked the government to amend the National River Protection Commission Act, 2013, to make the commission more effective, and submit a report within six months. 

The amendments ordered include strict punishment and fines for river encroachment, filing of cases and investigation.

The High Court also ordered the NRCC to take necessary measures to protect the natural beauty of the rivers flowing across the country. On January 30, the court termed the NRPC the legal custodian of all rivers and canals in the country.

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