Unplanned dredging won’t save Brahmaputra

EditorialProthom Alo illustration

No matter how much money is spent, unplanned dredging doesn’t come to any use. The Brahmaputra River is the proof of that.

The dredging of the river in the Mymensingh part began in 2019. Movements demanding dredging had been continuing since 2009. 

Even after four years, the river hasn’t regained navigability yet. Besides, instead of dredging the entire river, only 100 metres of width is being dredged.

After dredging, silts scooped out from the river are being piled up on the banks, which are returning to their original place during the rainy season.

Youths from Mymensingh town as well as several other upazilas staged a protest standing in knee-deep water on the river last Friday. They staged the protest symbolically, naming it ‘Mriter Chitkar’ (scream of the deceased).  

A citizens’ organisation named ‘Jonouddyog’ on Saturday conducted an investigation visiting different spots of the river to find inconsistencies of the dredging project.

The citizens’ organisations have made an allegation that Brahmaputra River didn’t regain its navigability in Mymensingh for not dredging the river at the confluence or the headwater. It can be crossed on foot during the dry season.

Professor emeritus of BRAC University, also a river expert Ainun Nishat told Prothom Alo loads of sediment flow into the Brahmaputra during monsoon.

It won’t do to just dig or dredge here and there. Only dredging won’t be enough to reap benefits in the long run. That’s why he insisted on adding river management with the dredging.

Dredging of the Brahmaputra River began in 2019 under a project with an estimated cost of Tk 27.63 billion (2,763 crore). At the initiative of the shipping ministry, Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA) has been implementing the dredging project.

The objective behind the dredging is to maintain navigability and to make sure that passenger and goods-laden vessels can travel on the river. And the river can contribute to developing local agriculture and fish resources as well.

But the four-year dredging endeavour resulted in zero. Did the money literally get washed up in water then?  

A total of 227 kilometers in the Brahmaputra is supposed to be dredged through the project. Total cost of the project to dredge 227-kilometre area starting from the confluence of Brahmaputra in Jamalpur’s Dewanganj to Tok in Kishoreganj’s Katiadi upazila was estimated at Tk 27.63 billion (2,763 crore).

Executive engineer of BIWTA Md Mohsin Mia, who’s in charge of the dredging, said they included in their plans to dredge the confluence of Jamuna and Brahmaputra rivers. The area will be dredged in the current year after all.

Dredging in the area between Tok and the bridge near the jute warehouse in Mymensingh will be completed within July this year. There will be no crisis of navigability after that, he added.

After four years of dredging, why is he now saying that the issue of Jamuna and Brahmaputra rivers’ confluence is there in their plan?

Why didn’t they consider the recommendations, Mymensingh district Nagorik Andolan committee, a citizen organisation had made back in 2009 after visiting the headwater of Brahmaputra River in Jamalpur’s Dewanganj?

Brahmaputra didn’t turn into a dying river overnight. Alongside decreasing navigability, grabbing and pollution are also on the rise. Dredging the confluence won’t be enough; it won’t increase the water flow in Brahmaputra. Distributary rivers and canals of the river need to be protected too. If any of the distributary rivers die, it will have a disastrous effect on the Brahmaputra as well.

We don't want to hear the screams of dead Brahmaputra; we want to see the waves of the thriving river. The dredging should be done in such a way that Brahmaputra regains its liveliness. Bangladesh will survive only if its rivers survive.