Buriganga must live amid industrial development and urbanisation


Save the lifeline from going deadly and dying

L-R: The pitch black water tells the tale of the river’s extreme pollution. Indiscriminate dumping of solid waste not only pollutes the river but desperately shrinks its flow.

Millions of people living and working on the Buriganga and those other millions just crossing it by boats or travelling through by launches and other vessels all have been polluting the river by indiscriminately throwing rubbish of all types — organic or non-degradable — while the government agencies are also discharging their solid waste and the sewerage everyday, in this lifeline of Dhaka. Moreover, tanneries of Hazaribagh have been given ‘authorised’ connections to release highly toxic waste into a canal that connects the Buriganga while many other dyeing and washing plants scattered along its banks are also contributing their best to release everything dirty into this ‘unfortunate’ river!

In parallel, there are unscrupulous businessmen and local goons encroaching on and grabbing lands of the river and making it narrower, thanks to those dishonest and greedy government staff responsible for its upkeep.

It all has given the river “a roughly-used look” with dark black water and strong obnoxious odour blowing from it. The extent of pollution is just beyond your expectation or anticipation. Now, no one wants to go close to the river without urgency, let alone for traditional boat riding fearing contamination.

However, thousands of people living along the river have been accepting whatever they are being given by the merciful God for bathing, washing and other daily activities. Those who directly use this water obviously don’t have the scope or ability to purify it before use. Forced to use the toxic water, people are falling victim to different water-borne diseases, and arbitrary bites of mosquitoes.

The river is witness to many historic and cultural events of the capital city which thrive on that water. It stretches only 27 kilometres — originating from the Dholeshwary (also known as Shitalakkhya) near Kalatia and meeting Turag at Kamrangirchar, near Hazaribagh. The main flow of Buriganga comes from the Turag which meets with the Dholeshwary in Munshiganj and together takes the name Meghna to fall in the Bay of Bengal.

Because of its course, the Buriganga receives all the waste water from Turag, which flows through industrial Tongi, Savar and Hazaribagh areas and receives it also from households besides industries and vessels.

Due to siltation, the river’s length has diminished from 27 km to 18 km. Eleven of the 18 kilometres fall in Dhaka district and seven in Narayanganj, with a very small portion in Munshiganj.

The present head of the Buriganga, near Chhaglakandi, has silted up and opens only during floods, but the lower part is still holding water throughout the year. The river’s course by Dhaka is stable, fixed by resistant clays marking the southern edge of “Madhupur Tract.”

Only 20 percent of the total water supplies to the city comes from this river through three water treatment plants, while the rest is met by underground source.

At and around Dhaka’s launch terminal, Sadarghat, dumped waste, mainly non-degradable polythene, has piled up over the years –courtesy small businesses and different industrial units, the city authorities and the nearby households. The situation has become so severe over the decades of neglect that these waste can’t be pulled up easily since the riverbed has become concrete-hard. Now it needs an excavator!

The water apparently stays a little better, naturally, for a couple of months only during the rainy season, due to opening of flow from upstream.

Last year, the government claims, it implemented a project to extract waste from three kilometres of riverbed of the Buriganga and one kilometre of the Turag. It had extracted 8.56 lakh cubic metres of waste at a cost of Tk 16.93 crore under the funding of Department of Environment (DoE) — the regulatory body concerned. The pilot project was taken in hand when it was revealed that the waste had created almost a 10 feet thick layer on the riverbed. But no other activity was seen for over a year until recently.

However, the outcry of the environmentalists and city dwellers in general, and awareness campaigns to curb pollution have been on round-the-year.

The government has nearly finalised a plan to go for a big project when three connecting rivers around the city — Buriganga, Turag and Dholeshwary — are expected to be made pollution-free by pulling out waste from the riverbed, said the national news agency BSS.

Meanwhile, the water resources minister very recently revealed that a project was underway to bring water from Jamuna in a bid to reduce Buriganga’s pollution. The Jamuna water would be channelled through dredging 162 kilometres of Pouli, Dholeshwary, Bongshai and Turag rivers.

This declaration is praiseworthy, but at the same time raises eyebrow of many because of previous experience of “much talks and less work” and slowing down of activity.

And the main concern lies here: “While you are cleaning the riverbed what about stopping the discharge of untreated toxic water coming out from tanneries, dyeing units and sewerage pipes; as well as dumping of solid debris and other waste?”

Let alone the people, the government is reluctant to High Court orders as well. The pace of removal of pollutants and checking further discharge carried out by different government agencies is not as fast as necessary.

Some 150 tanneries are set to be shifted to an industrial estate at Hemayetpur near Savar within one and a half years while 50 more will be left operating at old sites since the new industrial zone can’t accommodate them. This is a cruel example of not being practical. Moreover, the tender process for a central effluent treatment plant at the park has been the reason behind delaying in the very urgent shifting of tanneries which was initiated in 2003. The issue is resolved now and the work is underway.

Meanwhile, the High Court in 2009 also ordered authorities to make ETPs mandatory for industries discharging waste water and ensure that those are kept operational. But in reality, these are hardly ensured by the businesses and the government authorities.

The High Court last June directed the government to seal off all the sewage outlets on the Buriganga within this June. It also directed the authorities concerned to stop dumping waste into the river in the areas under Kotwali, Hazaribagh, Lalbagh, Kamrangirchar and Demra police stations. The authorities were also ordered to clean up the river and move all the sources of pollution from there. A similar directive was given by the court a year before it, too!

However, when we have problems, we must have solutions too; and it’s determination what we need to overcome the hurdles on the way towards solutions. At least because we need the rivers as lifelines, we should save them from going deadly and dying.

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