Old Khowai on the verge of death
According to a High Court directive, rivers are living entities and the National River Protection Commission is the legal guardian of all rivers of the country and has the power to take necessary measures to protect them. But in reality, it seems such directives do not mean anything and individuals and institutions have been happily grabbing river land with impunity. The latest act of complete disregard for the HC directive has been the continuous grabbing of river land of the Old Khowai river in Habiganj, which has been encroached upon by various government establishments and locally influential people belonging to both the Awami League and BNP.
This is despite a massive drive conducted last year, during which several buildings were demolished. These have now been rebuilt and are re-occupying the land. According to a report in this daily, many local influential and government bodies have set up offices and other buildings on this illegally occupied land. They include the Habiganj District Council office, the multi-storied Diabetics and General Hospital, the District and Town Freedom Fighters' Sangshad, a government library, and buildings of other government and non-government institutions.
There are at least 2,000 illegal occupants in this area. So why isn't the National River Conservation Commission being able to stop this encroachment? How is it that the government's own drive that had demolished at least 500 illegal structures has been rendered futile as the encroachers have just come back again?
It is tragic that over the years, most of the river has been occupied and even the remaining parts are on the verge of meeting the same fate. Recovering the Old Khowai is crucial to saving Habiganj town from waterlogging and important for the groundwater table of the municipality area.
If the government is serious about its commitment to saving the country's rivers, the first thing it must do is evict all illegal occupants from these areas, especially those affiliated with it. Future projects to clean up the place must include the opinions of the local people, who are the main stakeholders and victims of this encroachment. The authorities must make sure that individuals, organisations or offices associated with it are not part of this terrible practice of killing our rivers. In this regard, the National River Protection Commission must have the power to take action against all encroachers of rivers no matter who they are affiliated with.