As far back as 2009, the High Court made a landmark judgement on saving the four rivers surrounding Dhaka by setting boundary pillars, evicting grabbers, dredging rivers and other steps. But these directives were totally disregarded resulting in indiscriminate filling of riverbeds with sand and earth to make way for construction of buildings. Finally in 2019 the HC declared rivers to be living beings with legal rights in case of harm. The High Court appointed the National River Protection Commission as the guardian of rivers and assigned it the responsibility of upholding the rights granted to rivers.
Yet even such a significant ruling has not stopped the slow killing of our rivers. The Buriganga, one of Dhaka's main lifelines, has been the biggest target of this attack through unabated dumping of toxic waste from industries and the city dwellers as well as aggressive grabbing by encroachers. The dead, blackish, smelly water is testament of this neglect. While the authorities have been able to evict some of the grabbers, there are still areas occupied by encroachers causing irreparable damage to the river.
The latest report in this daily, on the consequences of this encroachment, reveals that a narrow V shaped bend in the Buriganga which was one of the main channels for river transport has become the reason for frequent accidents, sometimes leading to fatalities. The channel has become so narrow that vessels coming from opposite sides cannot be seen leading to collisions. With more and more vessels of water transport going through the river and many vessels anchoring at the channel and hundreds of sand-laden cargo vessels going through night and day, accidents in the narrowed river bend were bound to happen. So why has this crucial zone been allowed to be narrowed, jeopardising the lives of people? How could rampant riverbank grabbing continue despite the HC directive and in the wake of such obvious danger?
Despite the government's and High Court's effort to stop illegal grabbing, the onslaught continues on all the rivers of the country. With poor enforcement of the law, river grabbers have become more and more emboldened, especially those who have links with the powerful and influential. This cannot go on and the government must try harder to clear the rivers of encroachment and resuscitate them through different measures. For this particular bend, environmentalists and vessel operators have demanded that it is widened by excavating the riverbanks and evicting illegal structures.
The work for the government is clear as day. They must, with the help of the National River Protection Commission, continue the eviction drive and remove all structures that contribute to this narrowing of the bend. In addition it must re-excavate the riverbank to widen the channel on an urgent basis. Already too much time has been wasted at the cost of precious lives. There is no more time to procrastinate on such a crucial issue.