The High Court of Bangladesh is perhaps the third in the world to declare the rivers as living entities, after Colombo and Uttarakhand high courts. In a historic judgment, the court also issued 17 directives including barring the river polluters and encroachers from bank loans and asked the authorities to make them ineligible to contest any kinds of polls.
These directives seem most appropriate after evaluating the effectiveness and limitations of the existing laws in this regard. Moreover, the high court has made it clear that all these directives will be deemed as part of the existing laws of the land. Thus, the judiciary has done its work. The onus is now on the executive and legislative bodies to discharge their duties in this regard.
We feel that the rivers are the lifeline of Bangladesh. Life of the people and our biodiversity depend on rivers. But the politicians of Bangladesh failed to emulate New Zealand’s example, whereas our court voluntarily followed Colombo and Uttarakhand’s examples.
The parliament in New Zealand had granted the rivers as living entity for the first time in world. We hope our parliament would give due respect to the HC judgment cantering Turag river by following those directives. We hope the legislative body will work on implementing the judgment and ensure accountability of executive body if the latter shows any negligence to this end.
The National River Conservation Commission Bangladesh was launched in 2013 following a high court order of 2009. Although, the commission was established as a statutory body, from the experience of last six years we see that in reality the commission is only vested with the power of making recommendations. The commission, with the help of deputy commissioners, has almost completed a list of river grabbers of the country. The challenge of evicting river grabbers seems no less onerous than that of Anti Corruption Commission’s challenge to take action against corruption.
The commission has long been asking for more than Tk 1 billion budget to conduct drive against river encroachment. This estimation has been made upon the demand of the DCs. But, unfortunately, only Tk 7.5 million was disbursed in last fiscal year for that cause. There is no sign of a satisfactory increase in this year’s budget too.
The High Court has given many new directives which include declaring encroachment and pollution as criminal offense, imposing fine for polluting rivers and making clearance from the commission before any river or water bodies related development works obligatory. Existing laws and the commission’s organogram should be heavily changed to make those directives effective. Especially, the National River Protection Commission Act, 2013 should be amended in no time. Implementation of High Court directives is impossible as long as the commission is not restructured as an independent body.
The High Court has declared the commission as legal guardian of the rivers and asked the other government bodies to assist NRCC in every way. It is an imperative to transform NRCC as a semi-constitutional body such as ACC and Human Rights Commission.