The Daily Star Environment September 29, 2012

Click to see photos of Buriganga

Are the top government officials, specially the public representatives and public servants, all aware of the significance and importance of the four rivers around the mega city Dhaka? Do they have any long-term plans to save these rivers from still unabated encroachment and pollution? “Yes” should be the answer in both the cases. For this is what is supposed to be satisfactory to the people, who want to know that the people’s government is not turning a blind eye to the issue.

But did the government take measures to check the water of these rivers from going unusable or the river banks grabbed by unscrupulous businessmen and individuals? Or, are they now sincere in their effort to recover the losses that have already been done to these rivers? Undoubtedly the high-ups of the previous governments and the administrations concerned were not sincere, and unfortunately, the present government, too, is following the path trodden by its ancestors.

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Recently, people’s frustration deepened when they observed an unexpected conduct of the government officials in demarcating the Dhaka rivers –Buriganga, Balu, Turag and Shitalakkhya — to ensure that the encroachers are removed and no potential threats reappear. Demarcation is also ongoing along Dhaleshwari, on the outskirts of the capital.

The task, began last year, is almost done by now under supervision of several government bodies and assisted by law enforcers. But it is now clear in sight that the task has been a total farce. It has rather facilitated the established and ongoing encroachment of the rivers.

Many are frustrated to see that this government too, like the previous ones, has shown reluctance in being tough against the encroachers who can be other way described as local influential people with political backing and are rich or ”investors”.

Even though the green groups have been outspoken against this indulgence and have presented evidence to justify their claims, the government officials continue to not admit their wrongdoings, and are trying to justify their stance in different ways.

Ironically, the stance of the officials of all the government agencies and the encroachers is similar — they all perhaps like the rivers to be narrowed down as if those are useless flows. However, all others, including the green groups, like the opposite.

But it was not supposed to happen when the prime minister has been keen to save the country’s rivers, especially those around Dhaka, from encroachment and pollution. Several ministers and top officials of the BIWTA and the Department of Environment (DoE) have echoed with her stance.

Nothing of those statements has been translated into reality as yet.

The green groups and media have recently sought the intervention of the prime minister to this end since the deputy commissioners of Dhaka, Narayanganj, Gazipur and Munshiganj are not complying with the order and directives pressed by the High Court at different times, the latest being in 2009.

The HC ordered the four district administrations to follow Cadastral Survey (CS) of 1913, and Revised Survey (RS) of 1983, to ascertain the original positions of the rivers and demarcate those, including foreshores. It also cautioned that deputy commissioners of the districts would be held responsible in person for any negligence in the demarcation work.

But we have seen that the government officials in collusion with grabbers and under influence of political quarters demarcated the rivers in intentional wrong width . In most places, the boundary pillars have been pitched close to the water and even in the middle of the rivers. The situation is worse in Narayanganj area where the HC directives have been totally flouted.

Even though the pillars were supposed to be set up considering the water level of rainy season, the authorities concerned did the opposite. It evidently awarded the unscrupulous individuals and influential people to establish their grip on the encroached lands and foreshores. If the pillars are approved by the authorities, other greedy people across the country will also take the advantage of lax execution of laws and follow suit. This is unacceptable.

Meanwhile, the taskforce working on the rivers several months back formed review committees — headed by the deputy commissioners — to monitor the demarcation activity. The taskforce seems to be a mockery of HC directive as for negligence or malpractice in the demarcation work, it is the deputy commissioners who will be responsible! Then how these review committees can ensure justice?

It seems that these destructive activities against the rivers, as well as the environment as a whole, would continue with the (unofficial) assistance from the government officials who are supposed to be against the violators of the laws.

Yes, this is what frustrates most people while inspires some to join the evil’s team since impunity would be awarded to “investors” and who knows even laws may be revised to let them continue destruction, in the name of doing business! But should it happen this way?