The trend of encroaching on manmade or natural waterbodies across the country has taken a new form in Mathbaria upazila, where numerous dams and roads have been built across at least four canals.
Although the canals are now rendered useless, the general public, for whom the canals were built, are too powerless to protest against such encroachment by influential locals or government departments.
Locals said nearly 15 years ago, Mosharraf Hossain Akan, a former chairman of Dhanisafa Union Parishad, constructed a road across Bharani canal to connect Phuljhuri and Patakata villages.
Water transport through the canal has since remained suspended, causing sufferings to locals, they said, adding that to make matters worse, Local Government Engineering Department (LGED) gave a permanent form to the road in Bhangapul area by completing carpeting work over it.
Soon enough, two more cross dams sprung up in the vicinity -- one on the same Bharani canal and the other on its branch. This time those were built by locals to use the canal as their fish enclosure.
Around eight years ago, a dam was built across Bhuter Khal (canal), another branch of Bharani canal, in Badura village of Mirukhali union in the upazila.
After a second dam on Bhuter Khal was built near Badura Bazar area, another department of the government, Roads and Highways Department (RHD), built a permanent road on it.
Recently, another canal in the same village met the same fate as locals constructed a dam over it.
In the latest onslaught on the Bharani canal, a third dam across it has been built in front Begum Sheikh Fazilatunnesa Mahila Kamil Madrasa.
Locals alleged that madrasa Principal Muhammad Abul Kalam Azad is behind the construction of the latest dam on Bharani canal as well as the two other dams on Bhuter Khal.
Refuting the accusations, the principal claimed that locals built all the dams over the canals to save their crop as well as roads alongside the canals.
Many villagers said due to the dams on the canals, their farmlands and dwellings now get inundated by tidal water more frequently.
Al Amin Sikder from Phuljhuri village in the upazila said, “Thousands of acres of land now remain uncultivable as they remain under water throughout most of the year.”
Transport of bulk goods and commodities has also become more difficult and expensive with the destruction of the network of canals in the area in recent past, said many residents of the area.
“We used to be able to transport goods to and from different places of the upazila -- even between Mathbaria and Kathalia of Jhalakathi -- on vessels using the Bharani Khal. But water transport has become impossible in the last 15 years due to the dams on the canals,” said Abdur Rouf Mollah from Algi Patakata village.
Contacted, Sayeed Ahammad, executive engineer of Water Development Board (WDB) in Pirojpur, said all the dams and roads, built by locals as well as the LGED and RHD, have no authorisation from WDB.
They formally asked both LGED and RHD to remove the roads across the canals and replace those with bridges, he said, adding that they also asked locals concerned to remove the illegal dams from the canals.
Sushanta Ranjan Roy, executive engineer of LGED in Pirojpur, said he was not aware of any road built by LGED across any canal in Mathbaria upazila.
Justifying their act that permanently obstructed the flow of a canal, Sub Assistant Engineer Ali Akbar of RHD in Pirojpur said they only built a road over a dam that had remained on the canal for a long time.
Acknowledging the situation, Abu Ali M Sazzad Hossain, deputy commissioner of Pirojpur, said, “We will take immediate steps after investigating into the matter.”