River conservation commission hiding names of encroachers

Encroachment has shrunk the riverFile photo

The National River Conservation Commission is not revealing the list of the occupiers’ names who encroached lands of 48 rivers of the country. Their names are being omitted from the final report. Even the names of the establishments published earlier on the commission's website were later removed. A four-year survey identified 38,000 individuals and organisations in 48 river occupation. This survey costed Tk 290 million. The whole expense seems to have been wasted as the list is not published.

It was decided in the meeting headed by the chairman of the commission, Manjur Ahmed Chowdhury, on 15 December, that the names of the occupiers of the river and the structures built within 10 metres cannot be disclosed in the final report. The list of occupants will not be published in the organisation's database either. No such information shall be disclosed even in print copy. The commission contends that the survey was not conducted in accordance with the records.

The list of encroachers was made in a project titled 'Protection of 48 Rivers from River Pollution and Illegal Encroachment'. The project started in 2018 and ended on 31 December. The cost of the project is estimated at Tk 330 million, of which Tk 290 million has already been spent.

Drive against river encroachers is underway
File photo

Scorning the commission's decision, project-related officials and river experts say that the names of encroachers are being omitted from the final report to save the influentials.

Though the names of the encroachers were initially included, these were excluded at the behest of the commission’s chairman
Munir Hossain Chowdhury, Project’s environment and climate expert

Muzibur Rahman Howlader was the chairman of the commission when the project started. He told Prothom Alo that the project was taken to identify those who occupied the 48 rivers and built establishments there. Occupiers are listed in compliance with all laws. Omitting names from the final report means sparing the squatters. Influential persons are obstructing in releasing the names.

Matter discussed in the commission meeting

According to the minutes of the 32nd meeting of the commission, Malik Fida Abdullah Khan, a member of the commission, said in the meeting that the occupiers were not identified according to the records as per the High Court's verdict. Names of individuals and organisations identified through the project may not be included in the report, cannot be published on the database and the list also cannot be published.

In the meeting, the chairman of the commission, Manjur Ahmed, said that according to the Water Act of 2013, the illegal occupation of the river or the establishment along the river has been listed. Disclosure of this list may lead to legal and administrative problems.

The banks of the Kirtankhola River in Barishal are being occupied too. This photo was captured from the Dapdapia bridge area in Dakshin Charaicha of Barishal

The executive director of the commission, Manjurul Quader, expressed the same opinion.

Blaming each other

Officials of the commission and the project are in a confrontational position over the survey report. Project officials said they used GIS (Geographic Information System) technology to conduct the survey, collected information from the government offices including the office of deputy commissioner and collected information of all the concerned mouzas. Correct information would not have been available if they conducted the survey as per the CS (Cadastral survey) record since the courses of rivers have changed a lot in the last few years, they added.

In 2023 we are hearing that the names of illegal encroachers cannot be published. Then whose names will the commission publish?
Syeda Rizwana Hasan, BELA chief executive

Speaking to Prothom Alo, commission chairman Manjur Ahmed said, “We are not publishing the list for now as there are errors in it. Besides, the names of encroachers are not mentioned here, only the names of establishments.”

Responding to this, the project’s environment and climate expert Munir Hossain Chowdhury told Prothom Alo, “Though the names of the encroachers were included first, those were excluded at the behest of the commission’s chairman.”

The commission’s chairman has brought allegations of negligence against the project officials. Responding to the allegation, Munir Hossain said the commission cannot avoid its responsibilities in case of negligence. “What steps did they take?” he asked.

The report’s information

The data of the survey report said a total of 4,707 illegal establishments, the highest number, were found in Kirtankhola river while 2,493 illegal establishments were found in Karnaphuli river in Chattogram. Besides, 894 illegal establishments were found in Buriganga river in Dhaka, 886 establishments in Dhaleshwari, 661 establishments in Turag and 468 illegal establishments in Shitlakshya rivers, said the survey report.

Illegal encroachment and pollution has shrunk the River Buriganga
Shuvra Kanti Das

Outside of Dhaka, 807 illegal establishments were found in Karatoya river, 218 establishments in Bankkhali in Cox’s Bazar, 2,120 establishments in Gumti, and 333 establishments in Sangu river in hilly districts and a few other illegal establishments were found in other rivers across the country, the survey report added.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers’ Association (BELA) chief executive Syeda Rizwana Hasan said, “The commission is excluding the names of encroachers through a non-transparent process. There is no discrepancy between the CS record and water resources act. In 2023 we are hearing that the names of illegal encroachers cannot be published. Then whose name will the commission publish?”

* The report, originally published in the print and online editions of Prothom Alo, has been rewritten in English by Farjana Liakat and Shameem Reza