Let the killing of rivers come to halt

Prothom Alo illustration

When the National River Conservation Commission is struggling to determine the number of rivers, river encroaches are occupying rivers one after another. Being victims of the greed of these encroachers, small or big, all rivers are in a moribund state. Although some encroachers don't occupy rivers directly, they have destroyed rivers by extracting earth and sand from the banks.

Selim Khan, a sand extractor from Chandpur, remains untouchable although the matter came up for discussion at different occasions. He is a chairman of a union parishad and involved in the politics of Awami League. He does not care about local administration, law enforcing agencies or the Water Development Board.

Prorthom Alo in an investigation found Selim Khan earlier did politics of Jatiya Party. During the four-party alliance government, he had association with top leaders of BNP. When Awami League came to power in 2009, he donned the identity of close associate of local member of parliament (Chandpur-3) and current education minister Dipu Moni.

In a seminar organised on Sunday on the occasion of International River Day, National River Conservation Commission chairman Monzur Ahmed Chowdhury said there is political backing behind river encroachers. A woman minister has association with those who are extracting sand from Meghna river.

Pointing to Selim Khan, he said a person has stolen 668 CFT sand from Meghna.  The value of that sand is over Tk 60 billion. His theft has been legalised in exchange of Tk 2.67 billion.

Not only the issue of stealing sand from Meghna, the issue of encroaching Karnaphuli river has come up in the statement of river commission chairman. In the name of lease, Karnaphuli river has been sold. In the process, the shipping ministry, Chattogram Port Authorities and zila parishad are involved. And now the Chattogram City Corporation has been involved.

If the important rivers become the victims of greed of sand extractors, river encroachers and different government agencies, Bangladesh's identity as a riverine country will be history.

Meanwhile, many rivers have been destroyed. According to a study by the former deputy director of National River Conservation Commission, the number of rivers is 1008.

River commission chairman has compared the 'royalty' of Tk 2.67 billion with the illegal acts of Selim Khan. But in reality, Selim Khan has not given a single taka in exchange for extracting sand worth Tk 65 billion.

Those including former deputy commissioner Anjana Khan Majlish in Chandpur who opposed the extraction of sand from Meghna have been transferred as punishment. The question is, is the government assisting the administration to protect rivers?

It is terrible that a minister is protecting sand extractors. The liability of loss of Tk 65 billion falls on her. However powerful she may be, she cannot destroy rivers and the environment. The allegation the river commission chairman made against the sand extractor of Meghna, requires fair and neutral investigation and action against the people responsible.  Not only a minister is patronising sand extractors and river encroachers, there are many powerful people behind the illegal activities. Let all of them be brought to book.