A lifeline under threat
The 6.9km Chaktai canal, one of the main drainage channels of Chittagong city, has been shriveled up noticeably, thanks to indiscriminate dumping of waste and rampant encroachment over the years.
The width of the canal -- starting from Bahaddarhat area of the city and falling into the Karnaphuli River at Chaktai-Charmar-Gudam area -- was about 65 feet on an average, as per the RS survey and 61 feet according to the BS survey. But now the width will be about 50 feet, said sources at the Chittagong City Corporation.
Consequently, during monsoon and high tide the canal -- flowing through Shulokbahar, Chawkbazar, South Bakalia, West Bakalia, Dewanbazar and Boxirhat -- overflows and inundates the adjoining localities.
During the rainy season, these areas remain waterlogged almost all the time and the residents go through untold sufferings.
Following a writ petition, filed by Human Rights and Peace for Bangladesh, the High Court on June 6, 2016 directed the Chittagong District Administration to make a list of occupiers of the canal.
As per the direction, the administration submitted a list 48 of occupiers to HC in November last year. However, no progress to free the water body from illegal grabbing has been made yet.
Moreover the CCC, responsible for maintaining the drains and canals of the city, itself is in the list of the 48 occupiers.
According to the district administration, the 48 occupiers constructed different kinds of establishments occupying about 20,000 square feet of land of the canal.
The CCC constructed a four-storey building, occupying about 793 square feet of land in Bahaddarhat area.
Shahrear Khaled, 59, a member of Forum for Planned Chittagong, said the canal is not in its earlier state. Apart from illegal occupation, the depth of the canal also reduced significantly for not being maintained properly.
So water overflows nearby areas during monsoon and high tide, said Khaled, also a resident of Masterpool area beside the canal.
“To mitigate the waterlogging crisis in the city, the depth of the canal has to be increased and the illegal establishments removed,” he added.
Shuvescha Ghosh, a resident of West Bakalia and an honours student of Nasirabad Government Women College said, “When it rains, the road in front of Chawkbazar Kitchen Market, which is my college route, goes under knee to waist deep water as Chaktai swells up.”
“I have to walk through the filthy water to go to my college due to a shortage of public transport at that time,” she said, adding, “Even hiring a rickshaw becomes difficult.”
Saiyed Golam Haider Mintu, councillor of Ward-16 in Chawkbazar, said illegal occupation of the canal is one of the main reasons for waterlogging in many parts of Chawkbazar area.
The canal cannot contain rainwater for being silted up. Besides, people living beside the canal throw garbage in it which also obstructs the water flow, he further said.
Soon after the removal of the waste by the CCC, people again dump garbage in it, he added.
Jamal Hossain, organising secretary of Khatunganj Trade and Industries Association, said drives were conducted in the canal area in 2007 during the period of caretaker government.
Later, portions of the canal again went under illegal occupation, said Jamal, also a former councillor of Boxirhat ward.
Ali Ashraf, president of Bangladesh Institute of Planners' Chittagong chapter, said, “Only making the list of occupiers will not do. The authorities have to be serious to demolish them.”
Regarding the list, Additional Deputy Commissioner (revenue) Abdul Jalil said, “We submitted the list of the illegal occupiers to the HC and steps would be taken as per the HC direction.”
Contacted, CCC Mayor AJM Nasir Uddin said they are working to increase the depth of the canal.
CCC is also conducting a survey to identify the occupiers. After that a massive drive to free the canal will be conducted, he informed.
They will cooperate with the district administration to demolish the illegal establishments.
“If any such establishment of CCC is found that will also be demolished,” the mayor said.