The capital's Gulshan-Baridhara lake was officially labelled an Ecologically Critical Area (ECA) 12 years ago to save the water body from becoming further polluted and to protect it from encroachment.
Two giant signboards of the Department of Environment (DoE) have been standing on either end of the lake since November 26, 2001, apparently trying to convince people that it was crucial to preserve it for the ecology of Dhaka.
Over the past 12 years, there has not been a single day when sewage and household wastes did not flow into the lake.
“The government failed to take any effective steps to stop waste disposal into the lake. The government's negligence has pushed aquatic species, including fish, to the brink of extinction,” said environmental lawyer Syeda Rizwana Hasan.
For any kind of life form to survive in a water body, the standard minimum required level of dissolved oxygen is six milligrams per litre.
The DoE conducted a test in February on water samples collected from six points of the Gulshan-Baridhara Lake. The study found that at the Kalachandpur bridge point near United Hospital in Gulshan, the level of dissolved oxygen was as low as 0.5 milligrams per litre.
Even though there are several laws in the country to check environmental degradation, the Gulshan-Baridhara Lake continues to get more polluted by the day due to little or no enforcement of the laws, the environmental lawyer claimed.
As of April 15, 2013, household wastes are still being dumped into the lake, and local slum dwellers are still bathing in the waters.
“We generally wash cloth and bathe in the lake,” said Amirul Islam, a resident of the slum that popped up on the bank of the lake at the Gulshan 2 point. He said nobody ever told them that the lake was an ECA and that they were not supposed to use the water.
The DoE has never deployed as little as a watchman to check waste dumping.
The DoE Director General Md Golam Rabbani, while talking to the Dhaka Tribune, cited the most common excuse – shortage of budget and manpower – for not being able to shield the lake from pollution.
He also said that at present, they are focusing on three other ECAs around the country: the Cox’s Bazaar sea beach, Saint Martin’s Island and the Sonadia Island.
Besides the Gulshan-Baridhara Lake, there are four other ECAs in Dhaka: the rivers Buriganga, Turag, Balu and Sitalakkhya - all water bodies in and around the capital. The DoE chief said that his department could not properly look after them either due to budget constraints or manpower shortages.
However, Rabbani said efforts were being made to collaborate with Dhaka Wasa and Dhaka City Corporation to stop pollution in the lake.
A few years ago, Rajdhani Unnyan Kartripakhha (Rajuk) undertook a project to build a 40ft road along the eastern shore of the lake, shrinking its area.
The ECA rule was declared in 1999 under the Bangladesh Environment Protection Act, 1995.
Since then, a total of 12 ECAs have been identified in the country. In addition to the aforementioned areas, Tanguar Haor, Hakaluki Haor and Marjat Baor are also supposed to be protected.