City residents at risk with 12-acre water reservoir being filled

BADC land being filled in Gabtali, near the Kalyanpur water reservoir. Photo taken on Thursday, 6 April 2023.Prothom Alo

Bangladesh Agricultural Development Corporation (BADC) is implementing a project of potato cultivation through modern technology, filling a water reservoir in Gabtali of the city.

Already around 35 bighas (12 acres) of the reservoir have been filled with sand and soil.

This area is identified as a reservoir by the Dhaka city Detailed Area Plan (DAP). According to the law, it is a criminal offence to fill a natural reservoir as a landfill.

Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC) authorities have objected to the landfill. They say that this will lead to waterlogging in the capital city. The people will stand to suffer. However, BADC is not bothered about the law, the master plan or any objections.

In no way can BADC change the classification of the land to fill up the reservoir, urban planners say. They say that when a government agency violates the law, it is not bothered about the master plan and does not pay any heed to another government agency (DNCC)'s objections, they said it is obvious that the state system is not functioning properly.

Not legal

According to the Natural Water Reservoir Conservation Act 2000, natural water reservoirs include rivers, canals, marshes, lakes, springs or wetlands as identified by the master plan and declared by government gazette as places that hold water and rain water.

According to the law, the classification of an identified natural water reservoir cannot be changed. Such areas cannot be used for any other purpose and cannot be leased out or handed over in any other manner for other uses. Fines will be imposed if the law is violated.

What BADC is doing

BADC officials say that the 'Development and Multiplication of Agricultural Seeds through Biotechnology Project' aims at reducing import of potato seeds and expenditure of foreign currency by producing potato seedlings.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, the Mirpur Seed Production Farm (Gabtali)'s senior assistant director Kamrul Hasan Khan said, 12 acres of land have been filled. Potato seeds will be cultivated through biotechnology.

Project sources say that under this project, virus-free high quality potato seeds will be produced basically by means of tissue culture. Also plantlets for horticulture will also be produced. Work will also be carried out on identifying seed diseases in the seed health and molecular laboratory, as well as examination, refining, improving and germ plasm conservation of various BADC crops.

North city objections

The North city authorities on 29 March sent a letter to BADC, asking that no heavy structure be erected in the land. The letter, signed by the corporation's chief executive officer Selim Reza, said around 117 acres of BADC land adjacent to the Gabtali embankment and the Kalyanpur war reservoir are a part of the reservoir according to the DAP map. Any heavy structure there will hamper the development of the reservoir.

There is also a requirement to take clearance from the Rajdhani Unnayan Katripakkha (RAJUK) if any sort of work on the reservoir is taken up. And so, the letter stated, BADC has been asked not to construct any heavy structure there and to take action in order to maintain the areas as a reservoir in keeping with DAP regulations.

Selim Reza told Prothom Alo, the Kalyanpur reservoir is a vital area to drain Dhaka city's water. If this is filled, there will be no way for the water drain away. As a result, the people will suffer even more from water logging.

When it was pointed out that the land filling was still on, Selim Reza said, war can't be declared with a government agency. If the landfill continues, then there will be discussions with the mayor and the local government ministry. If necessary, the issue will be taken up at a high level of the government.

Landfill near completion

BADC's central tissue culture and seed health laboratory is located in Gabtali, opposite to where the landfill work is going on. A layer of soil is now being placed on the sand layer. And a machine is being used to flatten the land.

Paddy is being planted on either side of the reservoir. On one side is Goidartek and on the other, the road leading from Gabtali to Mansurabad and BADC's tissue culture lab.

There is a tin shed on one side of the landfill and a temporary fenced structure being raised. Now that the area is a landfill, the local youth are playing cricket and football there.

Over half the area occupied

According to Dhaka North City Corporation's property department, Dhaka WASA handed over 53 acres of land to them for rainwater drainage to resolve the city's water logging problem. And the corporation has 52 acres.

Meanwhile, BADC has around 117 acres of land by the side of the Kalyanpur water reservoir. According to the DAP design, this is a part of a reservoir. During the rainy season, the entire area is inundated with water and holds the water that is drained away from the city by canals and drains.

DNCC chief property officer Mohammad Mahe Alam told Prothom Alo, more than half of the Kalyanpur reservoir has been occupied. There are boundary pillars set up to demarcate boundary under the project to demarcate the canals and water reservoir. Eviction is being carried out to recover the land.

In the last eviction on 20 March, one acre of the reservoir was recovered. Also around 30 shops, 20 shanties and two rickshaw garages also with illegal goods have been removed from the reservoir area.

Water logging last year

At the end of last October the people of the city faced water logging due to the rain caused by cyclone Sitrang. According to the Met Office, there was water logging in the Kalyanpur, in the drainage canals and nearby areas even 20 hours after the rain halted.

These areas included Mohammadia Housing in Mohammadpur, Mohammadia Homes, Nobodoy Housing, Shyamoli Housing, Mansurabad Housing, Gabtali City Colony and Gaidartek. There was from knee high to waist high water in these areas. City Corporation officials say this was because the water holding capacity of the reservoir had decreased.

In the meantime, according to a study of Bangladesh Institute of Planners (BIP) published in 2019, every year from 1999 to 2010, on average 5,757 acres of wetlands were lost.

No one is interested in keeping the city habitable. Everyone feels, nothing will happen if I fill the land. But even disasters have made it clear why we need water reservoirs
Adil Muhammad Khan, Executive Director, Institute of Planning and Development (IPD)

An aggression

Executive director of the Institute of Planning and Development (IPD), Adil Muhammad Khan, told Prothom Alo, BADC in no way can fill the reservoir. This has been prohibited by the city corporation. There are laws. Money has been spent on the Detailed Area Plan. If they still don't bother about keeping Dhaka livable, this is sheer aggression.

Adil Muhammad Khan said that water reservoir act of 2000 clearly says that the classification of a reservoir cannot be changed. There is DAP. Even so, the land is being filled openly. Dhaka is losing its livability even more. It is because the government agency is violating the law that the housing companies also get the courage to fill up water bodies.

Other government bodies are also filling up water reservoirs, pointed out Adil Muhammad Khan, saying, "No one is interested in keeping the city habitable. Everyone feels, nothing will happen if I fill the land. But even disasters have made it clear why we need water reservoirs."

BADC chairman Abdullah Sajjad, speaking to Prothom Alo, said, "I personally do not know about this matter and so I cannot give a specific answer." He advised speaking to the project director.

The project director ABM Golam Mansur was called several times over mobile phone for comment, but he did not respond. He did not reply to any SMS either.