Eviction campaigns were carried out from time to time to stop the encroachment of rivers, but this stopped during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Illegal occupiers are taking advantage of this opportunity to occupy the rivers. These encroachments could not be stopped by government's directives, the recommendation of the National River Protection Commission or the directives of the High Court.
Prothom Alo published a disturbing report on 27 September about the country's rivers. Illegal occupation of rivers, canals and natural reservoirs is going on all over the country. However, the occupation of the rivers around Dhaka has become terrible. Pollution is going on in parallel with the occupation of Buriganga, Turag, Shitalakshya and Balu rivers. Industrial and sewage waste are also dumped in these rivers.
The 122 points recommended by the National River Protection Commission for river protection have been little implemented. It has been seen in the past that the Bangladesh Shipping Authority carried out eviction drives on the one hand, but the evicted simply reoccupied the rivers after a while, and establishments were re-established in those places.
The High Court has termed the river as a living entity. In many countries, the river itself can sue in court. But has the government taken any effective steps to protect this living entity?
In the wake of these incidents, the High Court said a few years back that they should stop playing blind man’s buff with river encroachment and eviction drive. At the same time, the court declared the rivers to be living entities. There are laws in the country to protect the rivers. Besides, there is a national river protection commission and various agencies to protect the rivers. Despite that, rivers are not protected from the clutches of the occupiers. This is because the influential people and institutions of the society including politicians, businessmen and people's representatives are involved in this occupation.
In September last year, the National River Protection Commission compiled a list of 49,162 illegal occupants in 48 districts. The people of the country have the right to know how many of them have been brought under action.
State minister for shipping Khalid Mahmud Chowdhury has asked everyone to be vigilant so that anti-liberation forces do not infiltrate the river protection activities. Finding anti-liberation forces in everything has become a political fashion. Although his predecessor Shahjahan Khan was in charge of the ministry, he was preoccupied with road transport. What could be more unfortunate than the fact that anti-liberation forces be found in the ministries even after the Awami League has been in power for almost 12 consecutive years? Such rhetoric is just a ploy to hide failure.
The court ruled that the boundaries and banks of the Turag River or any other river in the country could not be leased or sold under any circumstances to maintain the balance of biodiversity and ecology. Then BIWTA installed pillars inside the river instead of on the bank. Its purpose is to facilitate the occupation of the river.
The High Court has termed the river as a living entity. In many countries, the river itself can sue in court. But has the government taken any effective steps to protect this living entity? If so, how is the encroachment still going on?
The chairman of the river protection commission said that no project can harming rivers. However, development work is being done by filling rivers and reservoirs in different places. Government agencies are among such agencies. The rivers of Bangladesh must be kept alive. It was once said that there are 1300 rivers in Bangladesh. That number has at least decreased to 700. In order to protect the rivers, it is necessary to implement the recommendation of the High Court and the directives of the river commission.