The ongoing construction of an embankment on the Sandhya river in Barishal has sparked outrage among locals who believe the structure will damage the river crucial to their livelihoods.
Locals in Banaripara told this correspondent that they depend on the river, which connects Kacha river and Kirtankhola river in the district, and that the embankment would open ways for encroachment by influentials.
“The Sandhya river is important for our lives and livelihoods. The river should be protected for the sake of hundreds of people living on both sides,” said Rakib Ahmed, a fisherman.
Barishal Divisional Office of the Department of Environment (DoE) has claimed that the 1.1km embankment is being built illegally.“No NOC (No Objection Certificate) was issued for the construction of the embankment,” said Muntasir Rahman, assistant biochemist at Barishal DoE office.
Local Government Engineering Department (LGED) is implementing the Tk 1.36 crore project funded by Bangladesh Climate Change Trust Fund. The construction started in January last year.
LGED officials, however, claimed that the embankment stretching from Mahishapota Abashonto Dakshin Nazirpur would protect the river.
During a visit last month, this correspondent saw the embankment being built along a 100-metre stretch. Parts of the river (from the shore to the embankment)were filled with sand and brick chunks and fenced with bamboo.
This correspondent found 30 shops already built and 50 others under construction on the bank.“The businesses are gradually expanding thanks to a group of influential people who are filling up the river and allotting plots to traders,” said a shopkeeper wishing not to be named.
Seeking anonymity, an LGED officer said the local lawmaker, municipality mayor, and ruling party leaders fixed the location of the embankment to gain personal benefits.
Humayun Kabir, sub-assistant engineer of LGED in Banaripara upazila, echoed the officer.
When asked,Mayor Subash Chandra Sheel of Banaripara municipality, said he had no involvement in selecting the location.
Talukder Mohammad Younus, former MP of Barishal-2 constituency, declined to make any comment.
Encroachment of the river started in 2013 when local Awami League leaders and influential people constructed an AL office filling up portions of the river.
On August 3 that year, the then local lawmaker Monirul Islam Moni laid the foundation of Banaripara upazila office of theAwami League in presence of Mayor Subash.
When contacted, Moni said back then it was a small office that he inaugurated on khas land. He further said he was saddened to see that portions of the expanded office were on the bank.
Apart from constructing the office, the AL leaders allegedly filled up about 5,000 sqft of land and sold plots to local traders.
Prompted by reports published in The Daily Star on May 19, 2014, Manzill Murshid filed a writ petition with the High Court. Citing 2010 amendments made to Bangladesh Environment Conservation Act, 1995, he sought directives to save the river.
On the petition, the HC passed an order in March last year directing the director general of the DoE to take necessary action to remove all structures from the river banks after demarcation, Manzill said.
Asked about the HC directive, Sheikh Abdullah Shadid, Banaripara upazila nirbahi officer, claimed that he had a copy of the judgment which states there is no objection to the construction of the embankment.
“In fact, the court has asked authorities to demolish a shelter-home built on the river bank,” he said, adding, “We are preparing to appeal [to protect the shelter]against the High Court order.
“I am consulting relevant departments to make sure that the embankment is built in sucha way that it in no way harms the river,” said the UNO.