EditorialProthom Alo illustration

Rivers are inseparably linked with the formation of land mass, development of a civilization and the life and livelihood of the people of Bangladesh.

Although there are 1,500 existent rivers, most of them are dying due to indiscriminate encroachment and limitless pollution. The government has prepared a 100-year master plan to protect the rivers.

Alongside forming the National River Conservation Commission, the National Water Act has been enacted as well. Declaring the rivers in Bangladesh as living entities, the High Court has announced the commission as guardian of river conservation.

But from the looks of the situation, it appears that the guardian agency is strongly defending encroachers instead.

Prothom Alo reports that the river conservation commission had listed about 38,000 individuals and organisations, involved in encroachment of 48 rivers, conducting a survey for four years spending Tk 290 million.

But in a meeting, presided over by the commission chairman Manjur Ahmed Chowdhury on 15 December, it was decided not to publish that list of encroachers.

Even the list of occupying structures, posted on the agency’s website was removed later. It was also decided to drop the names of encroachers in the final report.

The commission chairman’s reasoning behind this decision is that the High Court had passed a judgment asking to identify illegal occupants, based on CS records. But, in the project they have been identified on the basis of Water Act, 2013. There could be legal and administrative issues for releasing this list.

He told Prothom Alo, the report doesn’t have encroachers’ names on it; only names of the establishments have been included. But Munir Hossain Chowdhury, environment and climate expert involved in the project has said though occupants’ names were included initially, the commission chairman insisted on dropping the names.

When the project started, Mujibur Rahman Howladar was the commission chairman. He has said that the list of encroachers has been prepared following all the laws. Scraping the list from the final report in other words is encouraging the grabbers.

Environmental lawyers also say that High Court’s directive hasn’t been violated in the ‘Protection of 48 Rivers from River Pollution and Illegal Encroachment’ project. To identify encroachers, this project took help not only from the Water Act but also from Ports Act and Land Laws.

Besides, boundaries of the rivers were specified depending on GPS with the help of space research organisation, SPARRSO. People concerned with the project, visited the site also.

In this context, the decision river commission has taken to exclude the list of encroachers giving excuse of CS ledger, is utterly illogical. Because, all the rivers, marked in the CS ledger prepared in 1940, isn’t in their previous positions anymore.

Boundaries of the rivers and lands on the riverbank have clearly been defined in the Water Act. The Water Act isn’t conflicting with the CS ledger either.

The worrying picture of rivers and natural water bodies being encroached and polluted are making headlines in the media every day. Everyone, starting from politically and socially influential people to government agencies are involved in this process.

The High Court taking river conservation commission’s report into consideration, has ordered the rivers to be freed from the encroachment.

Once eviction drives had been conducted across the country, making a list of encroachers. For that remaining closed now, occupants have been sort of rehabilitated actually.

And the decision, commission has now taken to not disclose the names of encroachers in a shady way, is the biggest blow on rivers in recent times.

The river conservation commission cannot in any way turn into an encroacher-protection commission. The question is, whose interests the river commission has got down to protect. If the agency doesn’t reveal the names of illegal occupiers, whose names will it disclose?