Dhaka city authorities are ignoring the orders of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and allowing rampant industrialization and unplanned urbanization to pollute the capital’s rivers to the point where they can no longer sustain any form of life.
Parliament and the High Court have been repeatedly issuing orders since 2009 to save the Turag, Buriganga, Balu, and Shitalakkhya from encroachment and pollution.
In July 2014, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina weighed in personally on the environmental crisis, after she was almost reduced to tears by the plight of the Buriganga.
She ordered the city authorities to work with the army to make the 110km-long riverine network surrounding the capital accessible and pollution-free.
In the same month, the Supreme Court ordered the removal of all structures – excluding those set up by the government to serve public interests – erected on the banks of the four rivers.
Almost four years later, however, and effluent continues to flow unabated into the rivers, which are still being consumed by gradual encroachment.
Cycle of inaction
Efforts by the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA) to begin re-demarcation have been repeatedly stalled by successive transfers of duty. The task was reassigned to the navy but they, too, are yet to show any results.
In November 2016, Dhaka South Mayor Sayeed Khokon announced a Tk2,000 crore budget to clean up the Buriganga.
Mayor Khokon had said the “mega project” would “make the Buriganga look like Hatirjheel”. But according to DSCC sources, barely any progress has been made despite massive funding from the World Bank and the Bangladesh Municipal Development Fund.
During a conference in October 2017, various experts, academics, environmentalists and civic members said politicians and local influentials were exploiting the government’s weakness in protecting the country’s rivers.
Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon General Secretary Abdul Matin said: “Even though there was a High Court order to protect rivers, the government and people with vested interests have been reluctant to implement it. Because of this reluctance, influentials are continuing to kill the rivers surrounding Dhaka.”
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Several conference delegates blamed the National River Conservation Commission (NRCC) for its failure to organize effectively.
Chittagong University Prof Manzoorul Islam said: “The government must strengthen the NRCC and introduce a separate ministry in this regard.”
The failure to set up a central effluent treatment plant has also ensured that the Buriganga waters continue to run black with muck and grime.
While government officials continue to claim that they are working to act against those responsible for destroying the rivers, the reality contradicts them.
Shipping Minister Shajahan Khan, during many excursions to the endangered river banks, has reiterated that a task force led by him is dedicated to ending river encroachment.
Housing and Public Works Minister Engr Mosharraf Hossain, another member of the task force, said driveways and walkways will be constructed on the river banks after re-demarcation. Even after three years, however, the re-demarcation remains unfinished, according to a BIWTA source.
The former BIWTA chairman, Dr Md Samsuddoha Khandaker, told the Dhaka Tribune that setting up demarcation pillars in the middle of the rivers was not even the right course of action.
The Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha (Rajuk) and Bangladesh Water Development Board has also tried to recover occupied lands in vain.