The rivers in Jessore district are in a moribund state as their flows have fallen drastically for widespread encroachment by land grabbers and unplanned government development projects.
Sources concerned said though official records put the number of rivers in the district at 36, existence of two dozen could not be found.
Many rivers have disappeared from the map of the district. Among the live rivers are Kobadak, Bhairab, Mathabhanga, Kumar, Naboganga, Ichhamoti, Betrabatri, Harihor, Mukteshwari and Chitra.
But the rivers have shrunk to either narrow canals or large drains due to encroachment on their areas.
Illegal business establishments have sprung up on both sides of many of them.
Locals said the river Bhairab flowing through the district town has now dried up with drastic fall in its water flow.
The river originating from the river Mathabhanga in Meherpur district passes through Damurhuda, Chuadanga, Kotchandpur, Chowgachha, Jessore, Basundia, Phultola, Daulatpur and Khulna.
Educationist Prof Afsar Ali, convener of Bhairab Bachao Andolon (movement to save the river Bhairab), said the once profusely flowing river is now on the verge of death due to rampant use of its bed for cultivating crops and grabbing of its large areas.
He blamed a section of government officials for encouraging grabbing of river lands, saying that corrupt administrative officials leased out river lands on long-term basis to grabbers creating legal complexities in reclaiming those.
MR Khairul Umam, former president of the Institute of Diploma Engineers, Bangladesh, Jessore, said the government had killed rivers, adding that bridges were constructed over many rivers in the district in unplanned way. He said government agencies, including Roads and Highways Department and LGED, constructed small culvert-sized bridges over the rivers shrinking them to narrow canals.
River experts said on going dredging works in the Kobadak river would not bring any benefit if effective discussion with India was not held over due share of water.
During a field visit, the news agency found that land grabbers erected numerous structures, including dwelling houses and fish enclosures, on both the banks of the river from Khayertola in the district town to Basundia.
Citing its 2008 survey, local Water Development Board office said 292 villages in Jessore and Satkhira went under water every year leaving the residents on the bank of Kobadak in terrible situation.
Convener of Kapotakkha (Kobadak) Bachao Andolon Anil Biswas said due to encroachment in large areas of the river, the Kobadak had now turned into a “death trap” for 10 lakh people living on its bank.
Wishing anonymity, some WDB officials alleged that river encroachers in collusion with a section of politicians and bureaucrats destroyed many rivers including the Kobadak.
Sources concerned said the river network in Jessore had collapsed due to construction of the rail-bridge at the estuary of Mathabhanga's tributaries-Kumar, Naboganga, Chitra and Bhairab rivers.
Asked about river encroachment and construction of illegal structures on the riverbanks, Additional Deputy Commissioner (revenue) of Jessore Zahrul Haque said the land department had been working to remove the illegal structures conducting mobile court drives.
However, he said in many cases, actions could not be taken against the land grabbers because of the cases filed by them.