The National River Conservation Commission (NRCC) is trying to amend NRCC Act seeking executive power
Elements encroaching on rivers and some government institutions will obstruct the National River Conservation Commission (NRCC) from gaining authoritative powers to punish offenders, according to experts.
Speakers made their views known at a webinar organized by the Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (Bapa), Arannayk Foundation, Broti and Waterkeepers Bangladesh on Wednesday. The organizers recommended forming a National River Alliance to help the implementation of a High Court order in 2019 considering rivers as individual entities.
The Supreme Court gave the guardianship of all rivers of the country to the NRCC by an order in 2019.
However, according to the NRCC Act, the NRCC has no executive power.
The NRCC can only make recommendations to the government. Now the NRCC is trying to have the act amended, seeking executive power.
“Empowerment of NRCC will face obstruction from two sides,” advocate Manzil Murshid said.
“On one side, encroachers will cause problems in [Amendment of the act in the parliament] for the NRCC gaining authority. Rivers encroachers are powerful. Many powerful persons have become members of parliament,” he said.
“On the other hand, Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA), the district administrations and Water Development Board (WDB) will also create obstacles. They have been handling issues related to the rivers for years but will no longer be able to [once the NRCC gets empowered]. For example, they have been accepting the lease of the rivers against industrialists instead of real users [people whose livelihoods depend on rivers, like fisherman] of the rivers,” he said.
Dr Mujibur Rahman, chairman of the NRCC, said: “We have prepared a draft of the NRCC Act 2018 and sent it to the Law Commission; after that it will be sent to the cabinet and then to parliament.
“At least 25 business groups have built infrastructures on the Meghna River. The width of the Meghna River has been reduced to half in some places due to encroachment. This is a very important river as it carries water from the Buriganga, Dhaleswari and Sitalakhya,” he said.
“There are many good souls in the cabinet but some ministers and MPs are involved in encroachment,” he added.
Dr Shahdeen Malik, a Supreme Court lawyer, said: “All the places have been encroached upon except some forests in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, some tribal land and rivers. So protecting rivers is very tough nowadays.
“In the last 20 years, the characteristics of the state have changed. Now it is a matter of winner take all. But in recent years, the Supreme Court has taken some revolutionary steps to protect the rivers. We can now go to the Supreme Court on river protection issues,” he said.
Manzil Murshid said: “If anyone encroaches on or pollutes rivers, we can file petitions directly in line with the major verdict in 2019 that declared that rivers be considered as persons.”
Sharmin Murshid, executive director of Broti, moderated the webinar while Dhaka University Professor Asif Nazrul, Farid Uddin Ahmed, executive director of Arannayk Foundation, and Bapa executive vice president Dr Abdul Matin spoke, among others.