No change on river front

Grabbing, polluting go unabated
The rivers flowing through and around the capital look dismal though 10 months have gone since the High Court directed the government to take measures to save them.

Buriganga, Turag, Balu and Shitalakhya–all still give off a terrible stench. Encroachers continue filling them up and industrialists keep polluting their water, found the correspondent in recent visits there.

In fact, little has changed since the government announced shortly after taking office in January last year that it would do everything necessary to put an end to river pollution and encroachment.

Except for taking up some ambitious projects involving hundreds of crores of taka, the administration has so far failed to go tough on influential polluters and grabbers.

On June 25 last year, the HC issued a set of directives for the government to implement within different deadlines.

The directives included demarcating the river shorelines, removing all illegal structures and putting an end to pollution and encroachment.

In light of the court directives, the government taskforce on rivers had taken some steps, but failed to carry those out.

Talking to The Daily Star yesterday, Shipping Minister Shajahan Khan said they could not meet the court’s deadlines as the finance ministry did not allocate enough funds.

The HC had some directives for four district administrations as well.

As per the court orders, the administrations in Dhaka, Munshiganj, Gazipur and Narayanganj districts have completed surveys on encroachment on the capital’s rivers.

They now await HC directions for the next course of action.

The survey report of one district reveals how industrialists, influential individuals and even government organisations have grabbed rivers since 1983.

Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority, the government agency entrusted with among others the responsibility to keep the rivers navigable, has itself filled rivers to build structures for commercial purposes.

It did so despite repeated protests from the environmentalists.

Asked if they would knock down those structures, the shipping minister said the government would go by the court directives.

In its June 25 directives, the court said once the demarcation is done, the authorities must have the riverbanks lined with pillars by May 30, 2010.

The HC said within six months after demarcation, the land ministry will have to hand over 50 yards along the river banks to the BIWTA.

As per the directions, the government’s high-powered taskforce on rivers at its inaugural meeting on October 15 decided to launch an all-out eviction drive against the river-grabbers around the capital within seven to ten days.

Dhaka, Narayanganj, Gazipur and Munshiganj district administrations have completed surveys and demarcation of four rivers–Buriganga, Shitalakhya, Balu and Turag–by November 30 in keeping with the HC directives.

But the government could not yet complete its eviction drive.

The taskforce at its fifth meeting on February 14 decided to start setting up boundary pillars along the four rivers by the end of April, but failed.

On March 31, it identified 13 low bridges on rivers around the capital as obstacles to movement of watercraft and decided to knock them down.

Meanwhile, Dhaka Water Supply and Sewerage Authority, which was directed by the court to prevent direct discharge of wastewater from Mitford Hospital and other places into Buriganga, has not done much to that end.

daily star

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