‘Dry Dock’ being constructed at the cost of encroachment

Karnaphuli dry dock is being constructed on the land of Karnaphuli river. National River Conservation Commission says the this dry dock is being constructed illegally. Photo taken in Badalpura area in Anwara upazila of Chattogram on 19 September, 2023.Jewel Shill

A privately-owned ‘dry dock’ is being constructed in Chattogram port area by encroaching into Karnaphuli river. The river is shrinking away because of this.

National river conservation commission says that it is being constructed defying river-related laws and High Court’s order. All sorts of construction need to be stopped right away.

Dry Dock is dry space used for the construction, repair and painting of huge ships or other vessels. The owner of Karnaphuli Dry Dock Limited is Abdur Rashid who is familiar as Engineer Rashid among the businessman community.

This dry dock is being constructed in Badalpur Mouza of Chattogram’s Anwara upazila on the left bank of Karnaphuli river about two kilometres away from the estuary on the upstream.

Opposite of the spot where this construction has been continuing, more establishments have already been built while preparations are on to build some more establishments on the other bank by encroaching the river in the same way.

The river has shrunk up on that point. Current width of Karnaphuli on that point is slightly over 450 metres whereas the width was almost 1,000 metre even two decades back.

River experts say that this point of the Karnaphuli river is highly important for the movement of ships at the port from the strategic point of view. A small privately-owned port is being created there centering the dry dock.

The marked spot is the land of the river and the foreshore in this satellite image from 2009.
National River Conservation Commission

Karnaphuli Dry Dock Limited owner Abdur Rashid has ship repair and river dredging businesses. Identifying himself as a marine engineer Abdur Rashid told Prothom Alo that the dry dock is after all being constructed legally.

He has purchased some of the land plots from the local residents while leased some others from the shipping ministry and the Chittagong Port Authority.

He said, “National river conservation commission has raised a baseless accusation that the dry dock is being constructed by encroaching Karnaphuli river. The port authority has given me the land as well as the permission.”

It wasn’t possible to talk with the Chittagong Port Authority chairman despite contacting his office and calling him on the cell phone. Even there was no response to the text massage sent to his cell phone on Thursday.

Idris Ali has done research on Karnaphuli river to earn a PhD degree. He is member of the river and canal conservation committee of Chatogram region.

He told Prothom Alo that everybody knows that the navigability of Karnaphuli river has declined. The fact that billions of takas have been embezzled in the name of reviving the navigability is also known to many.

Neither the state nor the public has any interest linked to what Engineer Rashid has been doing. He has personal interest there and the power which doesn’t get affected by the harm of Karnaphuli river and the port is there to help him.

Visiting in person

Three correspondents of Prothom Alo had gone to visit Anwara’s Badalpura on 19 and 20 September. While getting down at Bangladesh Marine Academy dockyard, it was noticed that construction work was going on throughout a vast area.

This satellite image from 2013 shows the area being filled out and the beginning of the construction work.
National River Conservation Commission

That’s the dry dock of Abdur Rashid. There was a huge pile of stones while many laboureres were engaged in different types of work and a number of truck were carrying different materials to and from the construction site of the dry dock.

There was a massive plot left empty on the Char (shoal) towards the right of the marine academy dockyard. There was a mangrove forest there, which is known as Badalpura forest now.

The trees had been cut off a few months ago and the tree stumps were left there. Clearing out the forest on that spot, Abdur Rashid has started the construction of a container depot there.

The area of the dry dock was enclosed by a wall with ‘Karnaphuli Dry Dock Special Economic Zone Limited’ and ‘restricted area’ written above the main entrance.

A narrow path runs along the west side of the dry dock wall. There are old settlements of the Badalpura village on the side of the road. Prothom Alo correspondents talked to five residents and a tea-seller of the village. Each of them was aged more than 50 years.

They said that the water level used to reach the road during full tide not more than just six to seven years ago. Within the dry dock site, there are some land plots that belonged to some residents of the village before they had sold them.

A government employee who has been living in the area for 30 years in connection to his job on condition of anonymity has told Prothom Alo that he has always seen current in Karnaphuli river.

But, the tide water doesn’t reach the shore anymore because of the constructions done through river encroachment, he added.

Photos and documents

The area between the point water reaches during full tide and the point it recedes during ebb tide is labeled as foreshore in river science. The foreshore on either sides of the river is as important as the river itself. After all, it’s a part of the river. Therefore building establishments on the foreshore is illegal, stated the river conservation commission.

Satellite photo from 2023 shows construction of the dry dock going on in full swing at that point.
National River Conservation Commission

Satellite images provided by the National River Conservation Commission showed that the river and the foreshore were still there at the Karnaphuli dry dock site from 2001 to 2013. As per the image taken in 2001, the river and the foreshore were in the dry dock zone.

The image taken in 2009 also showed the same. The transformation gets noticed in the image from 2013 which shows some establishments constructed in the area after it had been filled out with soil. The image from 2023 shows the dry dock located way inside the river.

Not only throgh satellite images, the National River Conservation Commission has clarified the issue of Karnaphuli’s encroachment with supporting documents also. The commission says that by the order of the High Court any place cited as river in the CS Record (Cadastral Survey design) is a river indeed.

Anything constructed on the river or on the land of the river is illegal. As shown in the CS design, Karnaphuli dry dock is being constructed on the land of the river in Badalpura Mouza.

The list of illegal encroachers of river prepared from the office of the assistant commissioner (land) or AC land in Anwara upazila back in 2019, also had Karnaphuli dry dock cited as illegal establishment.

The port authority isn’t above the law of Bangladesh. They cannot give away Karnaphuli river to anyone, talking about the law. Meanwhile, the ministry’s decision makes it clear that they have sided with the encroachers. The ministry should have taken stand for the river.
Manzil Morshed, advocate, Supreme Court

From district administration to port authority and ministry

The National River Conservation Commission went on a visit to the Karnaphuli river on 7 to 9 November last year to observe the overall situation.

At the meeting of district river conservation committee on 9 November it was decided that, “Almost all the establishments of Karnaphuli Dry Dock Limited and its associate organisations located in Badalpura Mouza (JL no. 29) of Anwara upazila and its adjacent areas are constructed by filling out the land of river and foreshore. Therefore, activities of these organisations have to be shut down immediately.”

Representatives of various government and non-government organisations including Chittagong Development Authority, Chittagong Port Authority and Karnaphuli Dry Dock authority were present in that meeting chaired by the deputy commissioner of Chattogram.

Documents derived from Chittagong Port Authority sources shows that the deputy commissioner of Chattogram had sent a letter to Chittagong Port Authority on 2 February this year asking for their opinion about Karnaphuli’s land in Badalpura Mouza.

In context of that letter, Chittagong Port Authority sought to know the shipping ministry’s decision. The shipping ministry made their decision on 4 March.

That decision stated that if a land plot or Char (shoal) is formed inside the port area, it belongs to the port authority according to Chittagong Port Authority Act (2022) no matter whatever’s there in any other law.

As per the law, the port authority can permit any individual or organisation to build a dock, pier, anchor or any other construction.

It has been stated there, “As Chittagong Port Authority holds the power and control over all activities within the port area it’s illegal for other organisation to exercise unwarranted interference in this matter.”

Later, the issue of Karnaphuly Dry Dock constructing establishments on the land of river was raise in the meeting of Chattogram River Conservation Committee held on 5 to 6 March.

The issue of Chittagong Port Authority and shipping ministry’s standpoint concerning Karnaphuli Dry Dock was discussed in the meeting. Chairman of National River Conservation Commission Manjur Ahmed Chowdhury then called the ministry’s decision unacceptable according to High Court’s order.

There’s no need to be an expert to understand that this dry dock has been constructed on the land of the river and the foreshore.
Manjur Ahmed Chowdhury, chairman, National River Conservation Commission

When asked to know about this on Saturday, Chattogram deputy commissioner Abul Bashar Mohammed Fakhruzzaman told Prothom Alo that he has evicted some establishments according to the guidelines of the meeting.

And about Badalpura Mouza he said that he would have to see the documents before confirming if the district administration has any lands in that area or not.

Despites attempts to contact state minister for shipping Khalid Mahmud Chowdhury on Saturday to know about Karnaphuli dry dock, he couldn’t be reached.

Supreme Court advocate Manzil Morshed has been fighting legal battles about river conservation for a long time. He told Prothom Alo that the port authority isn’t above the law of Bangladesh.

The port authority cannot give away Karnaphuli river to anyone, talking about the law. Meanwhile, the ministry’s decision makes it clear that they have sided with the encroachers. The ministry should have taken stand for the river.

Owner of Karnaphuli dry dock, Abdur Rashid told Prothom Alo that about Tk 14 billion is being spent on the dry dock. Out of that, Tk 8 billion came out of World Bank loans. The dry dock is 305 metres long and 16 metres deep. Ships with length up to 260 metres can enter there.

Karnaphuli dry dock basically is another full-fledged port inside Chattogram port area. Ocean-bound ships would be able to dock there plus there will be jetties and arrangements for storing giant containers. Once it has been opened, there will be a crowd of ships at the place.

Shipping ministry, Chittagong Port Authority and the district administration has jointly taken stand for the illegal encroachers, commented National River Conservation Commission chairman Manjur Ahmed Chowdhury.

He told Prothom Alo, “There’s no need to be an expert to understand that this dry dock has been constructed on the land of the river and the foreshore.

"We have rigorously combed through all sorts of records and designs and found out that the construction of this dry dock is completely illegal, which goes against the current law of the country and the order of the High Court," he added.

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