Criticising the government for constructing walkways on rivers before demarcating boundaries of the waterways accurately, green activists yesterday said the action would legitimise existing encroachment.
“It seems that BIWTA (Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority) is carrying out an eviction drive on the Buriganga to pave the way to build walkways instead of reviving rivers,” said Sharif Jamil, joint secretary of Bangladesh Paribesh Andolon (Bapa).
He was speaking at a press conference at Dhaka Reporters Unity. To mark International Day of Action for Rivers 2019, Bapa organised the event where green activists shared their observations on the ongoing drive against river encroachment.
“If you check patterns of eviction drives, you'll find that BIWTA is only evicting establishments that create barriers in building walkways. Moreover, to save a power plant, built on the Buriganga land, BIWTA is putting pillars on the river bypassing it,” Sharif Jamil alleged.
Terming the 2009 High Court verdict "dynamic", speakers said the HC directed the authorities concerned to set up boundary pillars surrounding Dhaka rivers and demarcate those accurately.
It also directed them to demolish all the illegal establishments, after identifying the boundaries.
But it appears that in the last nine years the HC order was not implemented properly, they said. The boundary pillars were set up incorrectly and as a result, the rivers were encroached upon indiscriminately.
In the name of eviction, some ineffective and small initiatives were taken from time to time, they alleged.
The green activists said about 10 years ago, the authorities built 20km walkway on both sides of the Buriganga and Shitalakkhya.
Now in the second phase, it is setting up another 50km walkway on Buriganga, Shitalakkhya and Balu rivers. Then in the third phase, another 150km would be built, according to BIWTA.
Under the new project, the government will build some 50km walkway, plant trees along it and set up three eco-parks at Shinnirtek, Tongi and Ashulia. The authorities will also build 19 jetties, including at Amin Bazar, Gabtoli, Kanchpur, Tanbazar, Machuwa Bazar, and Khanpur.
The government has already appointed a consultant to implement the Tk 850 crore project. BIWTA has already begun constructing the 52km walkway on the banks of Buriganga, Shitalakkhya and Balu.
Earlier, project Director Nurul Alam told The Daily Star that they are carrying out the eviction drive to free the rivers and will set up boundary pillars and build walkways so that no one can grab river land again.
He also said they will replace the old pillars, as they were set up erroneously excluding the river areas.
Bapa Vice President columnist Syed Abul Maksud said river encroachment is a criminal offence. “Without political willingness, the encroachment cannot be stopped,” he said.
Bapa General Secretary Dr Md Abdul Matin said a comprehensive project is needed to free the rivers from grabbers.