Onslaught on Karatoa on
The Karatoa is facing a fatal threat.
The famous river is shrinking, at some points by a fifth of its total width, due to widespread grabbing along its banks in Bogura's Sadar upazila, according to a government survey and locals.
Over the last 10 to 15 years, at least 38 structures of different sizes have been erected along the 24km stretch of the upazila. They include NGO and government establishments, shops, two mosques and a temple, according to a survey by the upazila land office.
About two dozen politicians, businessmen and local influential people are among the grabbers. Some people are also lifting sand from the river at various points, including Rajapur Nagar, Dakurchak and Phulbari, contributing to river bank erosion.
“The Karatoa is dying because of relentless land grabbing. It comes to life only during monsoon. For the rest of the year, it remains dry,” said Ziaur Rahman, general secretary of Bangladesh Poribesh Andolan, Bogura.
The survey, done in February-March, found that local NGO Thengamara Mohila Sabuj Sangha (TMSS), has occupied some 4.9 acres of the river land at Mohishbathan mouza alone.
It has allegedly grabbed river banks in other mouzas of the upazila as well.
The NGO, which has offices across the country, has built two structures at Sutrapur and Mohishbathan. The one in Mohishbathan houses a canteen and a hostel of TMSS Medical College, the survey report said.
TMSS Executive Director Hosne Ara Begum said the government leased out the land at Mohishbathan to them.
The government later cancelled the lease, which they challenged before a district court which ruled in favour of TMSS, she said.
The matter is now pending before the High Court.
About the structure in Sutrapur, she said some beneficiaries of her organisation built the tin-shed structure to cook and sell food.
She said the district administration should do a proper survey, following the cadastral survey method (that is used to determine property boundaries), to find out if the TMSS grabbed any land.
Tomal Hossain, assistant commissioner (land) in Bogura sadar upazila, said they did the survey based on the cadastral survey map.
Bogura Diabetic Samity has set up a six-storey hospital -- Bogura Diabetic Hospital -- occupying the river bank.
“The building was constructed 15-20 years ago with permission from the then deputy commissioner. Still, we will demolish it if the authorities ask us,” said Momtaz Uddin, president of Bogura Awami League. He is also president of the hospital's executive committee.
The Bogura municipality has set up a water pump and a building at Maltinagar mouza and two public toilets at Sutrapur mouza -- all on river land.
Bogura Municipality Mayor Mahbubur Rahman said he was unaware that the structures were on river land and that they would take them down if asked.
Locals also built two mosques at Maltinagar and a temple at Sutrapur.
“Muslims in the area built the mosques. The land was selected by respected people of the community. We have nothing to say if the administration demolishes it,” said Zillur Rahman, president of the mosque managing committee.
Gopinath Temple Committee president Ananda Chandra Das made similar claims and said they would demolish the structure if asked.
“In the 1990s, the river was 60 to 70 metre wide. It has now become 12/15 metres wide at some points,” said Hasan Mahmud, 38, a government official who was born and raised in the area.
Contacted, Bogura Deputy Commissioner Foyez Ahmed said, “We will remove the illegal structures soon and take legal action against the gabbers. We will start dredging the river as well.”