We are disheartened to learn from a recent report in this newspaper that a portion of the Kohelia in Moheshkhali's Matarbari union is in dire straits after an under-construction four-lane highway began encroaching upon the once mighty river five years ago. The road is being built so that the authorities can easily move with their vehicles to and from the 1.2-gigawatt coal-fired power plant being constructed by Coal Power Generation Company (CPGC). Dozens of dump trucks, excavators and cranes are engaged in filling up the river under the supervision of CPGC engineers. Large geotextile bags filled with dredged sand from the river's east point are being carried by trucks to be dumped at the west side of the river for the road construction. As a result, nearly 2km of the river have been engulfed completely. The mangrove forest along the river bank has also been destroyed due to the illegal activity.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has categorically instructed her administration to save our rivers from grabbers regardless of their affiliation. Then, does this not contradict the government policy? While the government is on a campaign to reclaim river land, a river is being filled up with the clearance of the Department of Environment (DoE). However, it is not only the DoE that is complicit in this environmental destruction; according to a member of the National River Conservation Committee (NRCC), even after the project was cleared by the DoE, the Roads and Highways Department (RHD) changed the design and did not bother to get clearance from the DoE on the changes. As such, both the RHD and the DoE are complicit in breaking the environmental laws of Bangladesh, which calls for immediate legal action and government intervention.
No fishing boats or vessels are able to navigate the river now, which once facilitated easy communications and trade with other parts of Cox's Bazar and Chattogram. Not only is the construction destroying the river, but it is also snatching away the livelihoods from many who used to earn a living off the river and are now forced to take up other low-income jobs, usually as daily labourers.
It is most unfortunate that despite the High Court's declaration that rivers are "legal persons", with the NRCC being appointed as the legal guardian of all rivers, such "killings" are openly taking place. The fact that the Project Director and additional chief engineer of RHD can dismiss this by saying it is "minimum encroachment" and that the Kohelia is not a "full-fledged river" is outrageous, to say the least. We are shocked at such blatant disregard towards our rivers, which are our life-lines. The government must be strict with its own departments when they go against the country's laws and official government policy. That the DoE should be involved in this encroachment is all the more shocking, and the officials responsible must be held to account.