Filling up of a part of a century-old waterbody allegedly by a former local public representative has caused an uproar among concerned citizens and activists in Barishal.
The 2.96-acre Sitaram-er dighi is situated near Kashipur Bazar under ward 29 of Barishal City Corporation (BCC). Claiming himself to be an owner of the lake, Ali Hossain Hawlader, a former chairman of Kashipur union parishad under Sadar upazila, has been dumping sand in the waterbody for nearly a month, locals alleged.
Local administration had also verbally asked him to stop the encroachment recently, but until last week, he had been continuing dumping sand into it, said people living in the area.
Asked about it, Ali Hossain claimed that he, along with some others, bought the land and the lake from successors of its owners.
Contacted, Abdur Rahman, deputy assistant officer of Kashipur union land office, said Ali Hossain had legal documents of ownership, although it was not recorded in the land records yet. The last ownership record shows one Syed Kawsar Hossain as owner, and the land is classified as a "water reservoir for public use".
According to the Playground, Open Spaces, Gardens, and Water Bodies Conservation Act 2000, waterbodies that are used for the greater interest of a community cannot be changed, even by its owners, without the permission of the authorities concerned, said Hasan Tareq Palash, an advocate of the Supreme Court.
Furthermore, authorities of the Barishal City Corporation (BCC) has included the Sitaram-er Dighi as a reservoir in the city's masterplan, he added.
Veteran lawyer of the city Manabendra Batabyal said the lake must be at least a hundred years old, because it was recorded in CS Khatiyan documents. If it is classified as a water reservoir in land documents, there is legally no scope for anyone to fill it up.
Sourav Mahmud, an environmentalist, said the large reservoir plays an important role in balancing eco-diversity in the city.
Anwar Zahid, a renowned citizen, said the lake was dug as a water source for common people, and must be protected.
Asked about the issue, Ali Hossain Hawlader said he did not fill up the lake, but dumped sand to reinforce its banks.
Contacted, Mehedi Hasan, assistant commissioner (land) of Barishal sadar upazila, said he sternly warned Ali Hossain Hawladar not to fill up the lake.
Following this warning and outrage from local environmental activists, the encroachment activities stopped for a while, before beginning again a few days later.
It now follows this stop-start routine, with the last instance of sand dumping taking place late last week, according to locals, one of whom said at least 30 feet of one side of the lake has been filled with sand.
Farid Kabir, councillor of BCC ward-29, said he has informed the mayor of the issue. The mayor is likely to take a decision soon, he told this correspondent.
Md Halim, director of Department of Environment (DoE) in Barishal, said, "Filling up a waterbody is an offense. We are looking into the matter. If the allegations are true, we will take action."