Eleven bridges have been built along these 9 km. In monsoon no vessel can pass under these bridges. Due to these unplanned, or poorly planned bridges, the once vital means of naval communication route has turned into an impassable dead canal.

The canal was a reliable means of trade and commerce in Barguna Sadar upazila. But over time it became a dead artery due to pollution and illegal occupation. The condition of seven more tributary canals connected with the Bharani canal are the same.

Bangladesh Water Development Board (BWDB) launched a re-excavate operation which is now almost complete. They have also vacated the banks. However, the 11 bridges are still untouched.

Many believe, unless these bridges are reconstructed, the canal cannot be revived to its intended usefulness.

In 2017, local environmentalists and civil society started a movement for this canal. People from all walks of life, regardless of party affiliation, formed human chains, and rallies demanding the re-excavation of the canal and the removal of illegal occupants.

The district administration became active due to the movement and with the help of the land office, they made a list of 135 illegal occupants on both sides of the canal.

The Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA) filed a public interest litigation in the High Court in 2016 seeking to evict illegal occupants of the canal and ensure proper maintenance.

Following the preliminary hearing, a High Court bench comprising Justice Sheikh Hassan Arif and Justice Rajib Al Jalil directed the Barguna Deputy Commissioner, Superintendent of Police and Barguna Sadar Upazila Nirbahi Officer and Assistant Commissioner (Land) to evict illegal structures from the canal and submit a progress report to the court.

Re-excavation project

The eviction drive started on 7 April, 2019 in collaboration with Barguna District Administration Land Office and law enforcement agencies and ended in December that year. The Barguna BWDB then undertook a project to re-excavate the canal.

According to the BWDB office, re-excavation work of Bharani canal started at a cost of Tk 280 million. The contractor started excavation work in August last year. Although the excavation work was stopped due to rain and adverse weather, it resumed in full swing from early winter. It is now almost complete, officials said.

The excavation will result in free flow of water in the canal, but unless the bridges are reconstructed in a planned way, no vessel can use the canal, the locals believe. Locals also demanded beautification work around the canal so it can serve as a recreation spot.

Sanjeev Das, president of the Barguna Press Club, and Monir Hossain Kamal, general secretary of the Barguna Civil Rights Protection Committee, both said some beautification work on both sides of the canal would create a wonderful environment that residents of the area could enjoy.

Barguna Deputy Commissioner Habibur Rahman said, “We have made sincere efforts to bring back the canal in its previous form. After the completion of the excavation work by the BWDB, the district administration will consider whether beautification work can be done around it.”