Administrative measures and political goodwill -- both are required to successfully evict the river encroachers. Following instructions from the National River Protection Commission, the local district administrations have identified over 50,000 encroachers. The next challenge is to free the rivers from the encroachers within a certain time and avoiding cases. Though drawing a list is a progress, fund crisis still remains.
According to the river commission it would require at least Tk 1 billion to oust the encroachers. Last year, it was hoped that the amount would be allocated, but only Tk 7.5 million was granted. The district administrations across the country took necessary preparations then, but could not launch drives due to lack of funds. Things have not changed much this year too. Chattogram district administration asked for Tk 10 million but was granted only about Tk 2 million. This is unfortunate.
We expect a declaration from the finance ministry shortly regarding a specific timeline for handing over the funds to the land ministry. Also, it must be ensured that the heavy equipment required for eviction work that lie idle at various offices and agencies, be provided to the district administration whenever they need these. There's no alternative to coordination among the ministries to ensure successful eviction. There are many influential people among the encroachers. The river commission has identified quarters encroaching rivers Karatoa in Bogura, Karnaphuli at Chattogram and Tista at Gaibandha. The commission apprehends complications over conducting drives along these areas.
Demarcation is also essential to save the rivers. Though it was circulated among several quarters that setting up permanent pillars by the river banks would be fruitful, it proved vain. Such projects were undertaken in an extravagant manner for Buriganga and Turag, but aren't progressing well. Even 50 per cent permanent pillars could not be set up. The river commission has submitted a Tk 1 billion project for setting up permanent pillars along big rivers that are running across the districts. This is concerning that setting up demarcation pillars along the rivers is not yet complete while a list of encroachers has been drawn already by the district administrations.
This is undoubtedly a success that for the first time a list of river encroachers has been drafted, but before launching a huge eviction drive all sorts of possible risks must be assessed too. It's not easy to remove over a dozen of dockyards along the Shitalakkhya and spinning mills or brick factories along the Meghna. There might be legal barriers, too. It must be ensured that the authorities must not be harassed for writ petitions. There’s an issue of following the High Court order in this regard. The river commission can consult the attorney general's office in advance.
It would be easier for the administration to carry out the task more easily if reclaiming the rivers was turned into a social movement. The role of the local political leadership, especially of the ruling party, is crucial in this regard.