'Meghna being filled up to build power plant'

BIWTA and BWPB officials said the filled area appeared to have fallen within the boundary of the Meghna river. The photo was taken on 2 February.
Shahadat Hossain.

The Ashuganj Power Station Company Limited (APSCL) has been allegedly occupying the banks of the Meghna river and filling it up with sands, risking the change of the course of the river, local people and officials have said.

Besides, there will be a massive river erosion in the Ashuganj port area.

APSCL, however, claims that they are filling up their own spaces.

But Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA) and Water Development Board officials said their officials have inspected the site. The inspection revealed that the area which is being filled up falls within the boundary of the river.

Nasir Mia from Sohagpur village of Ashuganj upazila in Brahmanbaria district lodged a complaint in writing about the occupation of the river banks on 19 January with the chairman of the National River Conservation Commission, secretary and deputy director of the Ashuganj-Bhairab river project. It urged the authorities concerned to take necessary steps to stop the ‘damage of the environment, the obstruction in the river flow and river erosion’.

Complainant Nasir Mia is a farmer and businessman. He has a business of rice and paddy in Ashuganj port. Besides, he is a member of the convening committee of the upazila Awami League.

He told Prothom Alo, “A canal flows towards the Sohagpur village from the north-western side of the sand-filled portion. Earlier, people used to go to the district through this canal. Now-a-days boats laden with rice and paddy from different districts of the country including Sylhet, Jamalpur, Mymensingh, Gopalganj and Barisal are anchored in the canal. However, after filling up the Meghna river, the thermal power plant authority has also taken over this canal. I will lodge another complaint.”

Nasir Mia’s complaint states that the state-owned APSCL authorities tried to grab about 300 acres of agricultural land adjacent to the Meghna river in Sohagpur and Bahadurpur village. However, they could not do so for the resistance of the locals. Now they are illegally filling up hundreds of acres of area on the banks of the Meghna river and inside the river as an alternative.

The course of the river may change for this intervention. Besides, there will be a massive river erosion in the Ashuganj port area. The Charsonarampur village, which arose in the Meghna river, will be completely submerged. Around two thousand fishing families live in this village. Their houses and properties, the only crematorium in the Ashuganj area and the tower of 230 KV transmission line of Ashuganj-Sirajganj national grid located in the char -- all of these will be submerged in the river too.

The locals said, the thermal power plant authority has tactically constructed a new defensive wall covering about one to one and a half km area behind the rest house outside their boundary wall.

The APSCL authorities extracted the sand from the Meghna river and used it for filling up the river. A local contractor has got the contract of filling up the river with sand worth Tk 75 million (7.5 crore). The APSCL does not have any land in their possession on the banks of the Meghna river.

Ziaul Karim, the chairman of the Durgapur union parishad (UP), said the APSCL has built a rest house with a boundary wall on the banks of the Meghna river.

Ikramul Islam Chowdhury, the convenor of ‘Nongor’, an environment organisation, told Prothom Alo that the Meghna river has been filled up with sands by occupying its bank. The course of the river may change.. Besides, the croplands alongside the river in the Sohagpur area, Charsonarampur village, the electricity transmitting towers of different districts located in the village, and the Ashuganj port area will be in danger of massive river erosion.

APSCL claims they are filling their own land.
Shahadat Hossain.

A recent inspection of the area revealed that the rest house is located about 2 kilometers north of the Ashuganj port. New walls of 150 to 200 feet width and two to two and a half thousand feet in length have been constructed from the boundary wall towards the river behind the rest house and the river has been filled with sand. The filling work is almost at the final stage.

The officials from the concerned divisions of the government say it seemed to them that the filled up spaces fell within the boundary of the river. Regarding this, Shahid Ullah, the deputy director of the Ashuganj-Bhairab river port of BIWTA, told Prothom Alo, “Our inspector Md Jashim has inspected the area. The filled up area appeared to have fallen within the boundary of the Meghna river. The river conservation commission has formed a committee in this regard.”

Ranjan Kumar, the acting executive engineer of Brahmanbaria Water Development Board, said that their officers have inspected the area. They too have identified the filled up spaces to have fallen within the boundary of the river. He will write a letter to the APSCL authorities regarding this after further verification and discussion with the higher authority.

According to the APSCL sources, the Ashuganj thermal power plant was built on the banks of the Meghna River in 1966-67 considering the possibility of easy transport of heavy machinery and availability of gas. A land of 311 acres was acquired from Sohagpur, Sonarampur and Bahadurpur village. This power plant was converted to a company in 2003. The company authorities claim they have more than 3 acres of unused land outside the old boundary wall. That area is being filled by constructing a defensive wall there.

Regarding this, the managing director of APSCL, AFM Sazzadur Rahman told Prothom Alo that the land was acquired before independence. It was abandoned since then. New multi-storied buildings and a power plant will be constructed there once the place is filled.

Regarding the complaints from the locals, he said, “Anyone can make complaints. But nobody can show any evidence in support of the complaints.”

When asked about this, Feroza Parvin, the assistant commissioner (land) of Ashuganj upazila, said that an investigation is ongoing in this regard. The chairman of the river conservation committee will probably visit the site next week. A report will be made after an inspection of the site soon.

*This report appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ashish Basu