Land grabbers in Bogra and Gaibandha have allegedly occupied a huge portion of the Karatoa river at several points, according to Bangladesh Water Development Board and the Department of Environment.
Sources at WDB Bogra circle office said some influential people have occupied large areas of land on both sides of the river in the two districts. It is also alleged that government supported organisations are involved in the encroachment, with the intention of constructing multi-storey buildings there.
The DoE has identified many people and some non-government organisations, including Thangamara Mohila Shabuj Shango and Diabetic Hospital in Bogra, which have grabbed river land.
WDB Sub-Assistant Engineer in Bogra AKM Najmul Hassain said about 57 kilometres of the 86.75 km channel from Khalisha to Khanpur has already been occupied for cultivation and other purposes by encroachers. “The river lost its main channel from Khalisha in Gaibandha to Khanpur in Bogra about 23 years ago when the flow of water was regulated.
“The WDB constructed a three-vent regulator in Khalisha area in 1989 to control the flow of the river. Farmers on both riverbanks started cultivation of boro and other seasonal crops from Khalisha to Khanpur from the beginning of the winter season” AKM Najmul Hassain said.
One Ekramul Haque in Bogra town started a private housing project on 28 decimals of land near Bogra DC office allegedly occupying a chunk of the Karatoa a few months ago. His legal adviser has, however, denied the allegations and said his client started the housing project on the basis of legal documents.
The Government supported social organisation the Diabetic Association, Bogra unit, also allegedly grabbed six decimals of river land in Nawabbari area in Bogra town on the west bank and constructed a multi-storey hospital building there, about 15 years ago.
Amzad Hossain Tazma, president of the unit, said the organisation constructed the building with the written permission of the district administration in 1997.
Md Abdul Mazid, a divisional director of DoE, said the department had sent letters to the deputy commissioner of Bogra and Gaibandha, seeking to pursue legal action against the land grabbers.
The department has taken an initiative to restore flow of the river from Khalisha of Gobindaganj upazila in Gaibandha to Khanpur of Sherpur upazila in Bogra, he added.
AKM Momtaz Uddin, superintendent engineer, WDB, Bogra Circle said a development project worth Tk 136 crore was initiated to improve the Karatoa channel and other infrastructure in 2006. But he was unsure when the project would start.
The DoE is preparing gabbers’ list to evict them and restore the river channel, WDB sources said.
According to the WDB, the Karatoa is a very old river mentioned even in the Vedic literature and stood as the boundary of the Aryan expansion to the east.
M Inamul Haque mentioned in his book ‘Water Resources Management in Bangladesh’ that from the Rennell's Map of 1779 it appears that the Karatoa originated from the foothills of the Himalayas in Darjeeling of West Bengal and joined the Atrai river in the plains.
According to sources at the DoE divisional office in Bogra, the river is now seriously polluted by chemical, domestic and industrial waste.