The second phase of the eviction drive launched to rid the Karnaphuli of illegal occupation has become uncertain as authorities do not have a plan for the reclaimed land.
Just five days after the first-phase eviction drive began in early February, it was called off.
Officials concerned gave three reasons for not continuing with the drive -- indecision about the structures built on the Karnaphuli land leased out by Chattogram Port Authority (CPA), not having a plan on what to do after reclaiming the land, and rehabilitation of slum dwellers.
Explaining the delay, Elias Hossen, deputy secretary of Chattogram district administration, told The Daily Star that a massive master plan was underway for the river.
Reclaimed land had been grabbed again by encroachers before as there was no well-thought-out plan, he said. “The government formed a high-powered committee led by two ministers to make a suitable plan that would make sure the river is not encroached anymore,” Elias added.
About the structures built on the Karnaphuli land leased out by CPA, Elias said they would act as per court directives. “There will be no unplanned structures along the Karnaphuli. Structures that are planned and necessary for the river will be allowed,” he said.
Elias could not say when the second phase of the drive would begin, let alone the third and final phase.
The first phase began on February 4 during which 10 acres of land were reclaimed and at least 300 structures built illegally on west bank of the river were knocked down. It began from the Jetty Ghat of Sadarghat and ended at Barik building intersection on February 7.
Visiting the river, LGRD Minister Md Tazul Islam told reporters on March 2 that the letup in eviction drive was strategic. He said the drive did not stop, it is just a pause. There would be no compromise with encroachers.
In a survey report submitted to the High Court in 2016, Chattogram district administration said at least 2,012 illegal structures were on the banks of the Karnaphuli.
Asked about the structures built on the land leased by CPA, Zillur Rahman, deputy manager (land) of CPA, told The Daily Star that the HC in its directive omitted the structures that have been built on leased land.
“As the structures are related to CPA, they would be beyond the drive's purview,” he added.
Karnaphuli researcher Prof Edris Ali said, “Why did the government kick off the eviction without any master plan? It is being used as a pretext to halt the drive midway.”
“Anyone using the government name can stop the eviction. The goals set by the government for 2030 and 2041 will be hard to reach. This is the only river on which the nation's economy largely depends,” Edris added.
During a recent visit, this correspondent found that an illegal structure was being built on the reclaimed land in Majhir Ghat area near Sadarghat as the district administration did not fence off the space.
Executive Magistrate Tahmilur Rahman Mukto, who had led the eviction drive, had to rush to the spot to remove the structure.