Halda river is one of the most prominent fish breeding grounds in the country. However, the restrictions given by the fisheries and livestock ministry are being overlooked. The biodiversity of the river is at risk as the movement of engine-powered vessels started again. As a result, the mother fishes and dolphins are dying. Md Manjurul Kibria is the co-ordinator of Halda River Research Institute and head of the zoology department at Chittagong University. The interview was taken by Sujan Ghose and SM Yusuf Uddin.
Halda is one of the most important rivers in the country. What sorts of initiative are needed to protect it?
A long term planning is needed to protect the Halda river. Instead of taking separate projects, the concerned ministries should develop a 50-year integrated plan. If different projects are implemented following that plan, it will be possible to save the river. And these initiatives must be taken by the proposed Halda authorities. If initiatives are taken in cooperation with the administration, local people, NGO and research institutes, it will be possible to save the river.
Are the initiatives taken by the authorities to implement the recommendations to protect Halda enough?
The initiatives taken by the authority to protect the river is highly positive as compared to other rivers. But that does not fulfill the expectation considering the significance of the river. We could have enjoyed a hundred per cent benefit of the sincerity of the authority to protect the river if there was coordination between different ministries and departments. In this case, lack of coordination is a big concern. Different divisions and directorates under the concerned ministries work arbitrarily which results in more damage to the river instead of its protection. The construction of a rubber dam in Bhujpur, the ongoing projects of the Water Development Board and Chattogram WASA’s efforts to extract about 140 million litres of water are the biggest examples in this case.
Why is the number of dolphin’s death increasing in Halda?
There are three main reasons behind this. These are – injuries from the propellers of boats, death after being trapped in the nets and illegal poaching. If a dolphin gets even the slightest injury when a heavy engine-powered boat or a dredger passes by, it dies. Dolphins have a layer of fat underneath their skin. Even a slightest hit in this layer results in a rapid infection which leads to the dolphin's death. When fishermen cast net into the water, dolphins get near it to eat the fish trapped in the net. Dolphins have countless teeth. When they try to eat fish, their teeth get entangled with the net. If a dolphin stays like this for more than 30 minutes, it dies. Apart from that, dolphins are being killed to use it for the purposes of alternative medicine and fishing bait.
Then what is the way to protect the dolphins?
The way to protect dolphins is to make people aware. Movement of engine-run boats must be banned in the river. Initiatives should be taken to stop river pollution. Besides, the leasing of Balumahal should be stopped. The use of tangle net also should be banned.
What is the state of pollution in Halda?
Although the Halda river is less occupied, it is highly polluted. However, the situation is much improved as compared to the past. Extensive cultivation of tobacco in Manikchhari area, upstream of Halda river, has been stopped. One of the main sources of pollution in Halda river was the ‘100 Megawatt Power Plant’ in Hathazari. It was closed in 2018, despite being a government organisation. The Asian Paper Mill in Nandirhat has been closed for two years. If the flow of waste from Chattogram city area and other areas under CDA, which falls into the river through Bamonshahi, Kuwaish and Khandkiya canal, is stopped, the river will be 70 to 80 per cent pollution free.
Despite so many initiatives, why is Halda facing disaster recurrently? What do you say about this as a researcher?
I have already said that the main reason for the disaster in Halda is the lack of coordination between different ministries and divisions. The organisations showing sincerity in protecting Halda have weak logistic support and manpower. As a result, Halda is not getting the benefit of discrete works. To save Halda from disasters, we have to form a Halda authority comprising government administration, local people, NGO and research organisations, which will implement the long-term plan to protect the river. Besides, the use of ray fishing nets should be banned.
* The interview, originally published in the online edition of Prothom Alo, has been rewritten for English by Ashish Basu