Land grabbers are killing off Dhaka’s rivers by erecting illegal establishments, speakers say at River Talkies
It was not very long ago that people used boats plying the Buriganga channels to travel to Banani from Kamrangirchar, recounts 48-year-old boatman Geddu Majhi.
“There was a boat ghat near Shyamoli cinema hall. At the time, we used to catch fish in the Kalyanpur area. The Sat Masjid Ghat was there.
“But all the channels and water bodies have disappeared in the past three decades due to unplanned urbanization and the greed of land grabbers. Now only the Buriganga is there, but it is dying slowly,” says the man, who has witnessed the sad transformation of the western part of Dhaka city through land grabbing and construction of illegal structures.
Geddu Majhi was sharing his experience with a group of journalists and campaigners at a talk show entitled “Urbanization of Dhaka along the riverbank” on Tuesday afternoon, held under a banyan tree on an island called Matbor Bhita near Kamrangirchar of the capital and located at the confluence of the Buriganga and Turag rivers.
Sharif Jamil, coordinator of Waterkeepers Bangladesh, moderated the event, where other speakers raised concerns about the degradation of Dhaka’s rivers, and the impact on the lives of boatmen and fishermen.
Explaining the need for saving the rivers for the city as well as for people inhabiting the riverbanks, Sharif Jamil asked the government to complete the demarcation of Dhaka’s four rivers and evict all illegal grabbers as per High Court directives.
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It may be noted that the High Court in mid-March ordered the authorities concerned to evict within three months the illegal establishments in Kamrangirchar and Hazaribagh areas that are hindering the flow of the original channel of the Buriganga River.
Filling up the water bodies and then erecting structures on them to grab the land around the rivers has been a common phenomenon in Dhaka and elsewhere for the last 40 years, say experts and observers. The authorities conduct drives almost every year against the grabbers, but only after the intervention of the courts.
In 2005, the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA) demolished more than 300 illegal structures in Kamrangirchar and Hazaribagh, but the eviction drive was halted for mysterious reasons.
In 2019, the High Court accorded the Turag River the status of “legal person” to save it from encroachment and said that the status would be applicable for all rivers around the country.
Moreover, to curb pollution of the Buriganga River, the government has already relocated the hazardous tannery industries from Hazaribagh to Hemayetpur. But this industrial park is now polluting the Dhaleshwari River due to unchecked disposal of wastes.
At the River Talkies, Dr Adil Mohammad Khan, general secretary of Bangladesh Institute of Planners, Saraf Anjum Disha, senior research analyst of Innovation for Poverty Action and Manik Hossain, former president of Basila Primary School, spoke among others. They asked the government to take up long-term and sustainable plans for the sake of preserving the rivers.
The discussion was organized as part of an anti-pollution advocacy project, “Promoting Democratic Governance and Collective Advocacy for Environmental Protection in Dhaka city.”
Waterkeepers Bangladesh is implementing the project in collaboration with USAID, FCDO and Counterpart International (CPI). The project aims at collecting information on pollution, and changing the behavior and mindset of citizens as well as policymakers.