Due to corruption and absence of good governance, people in the haor region continue to suffer, speakers said at a seminar yesterday.
They urged the government to implement existing laws and regulations to mitigate people's sufferings.
Association for Land Reform and Development (ALRD) organised the seminar at Jatiya Press Club in Dhaka.
Noted economist Prof Abul Barkat presented a survey result titled, “Haor Ruling System of Bangladesh and the Rights of Haor People” as the study's lead researcher.
ALRD conducted the study in assistance with Human Development Research Centre.
Prof Barkat said, “Although poor fishermen have ethical and legal rights on haor, rich and influential lessees continue to occupy those.” The fishermen cannot even participate in the leasing process, he added.
The study said members of “real” fishermen associations are not economically capable to farm for fish cultivation in the haor areas.
As a result, they have no other option but to “sell license of their associations to influential people”, who subsequently lease the waterbodies, it added.
The study found evidence of corruption in many cases in the Project Implementation Committee (PIC) system while building embankments. PIC was undertaken replacing the previous “contractor system” due to massive corruption, it said.
Prof Barkat alleged that many government officials and UP chairmen are involved in corruption.
In 2017, contractors and Water Development Board officials embezzled around Tk 8.18 crore during embankment construction, which led to a devastating flood in Sylhet region, the study added.
It recommended short and long term measures for the development of haor region, including ensuring good governance, financial and other assistance for fishermen, distributing seeds, fertilisers and other materials among poor farmers, and a specific plan to prevent and fight disaster in haors.
Speaking at the seminar, Syeda Rizwana Hasan, chief executive of Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (Bela), said, “The leasing system should be cancelled.”
She stressed on adopting an eco-friendly policy for the haor region as well as studying the areas' meteorological conditions.
Engr M Inamul Haque, former director general of Bangladesh Water Resource Planning Organization, said, “According to the government's Jalmahal (Wetland) Management Policy, open wetland cannot be leased out. But it's being done frequently.”
Shamsul Huda, executive director of ALRD, said, “A special strategy has to be developed, considering environment of the region.”
Experts and representatives from various haor protection organisations also spoke at the seminar.