As our rivers lie dying
Two major riverbanks on the capital's outskirts remain at the mercy of illegal encroachers, and the only action the government has taken over the last decade is preparing lists of the grabbers, without taking any action against them.
Over the years, the government has prepared list after list, but with no action, an ever-increasing number of grabbers have all but taken over the Bangshi and Dhaleshwari rivers in Savar.
In 2014, an assistant commissioner (AC-land) in Savar prepared a list, listing 35 persons and institutions encroaching the Bangshi river.
Subsequently, the Dhaka district administration appointed an executive magistrate to run mobile courts to evict the illegal structures, but no such drive was conducted, said locals as well as officials of the district administration.
In 2018, another AC-land prepared a new list, which contains names of 65 grabbers -- both persons and institutions. Again, no action was taken taken against them.
Later in 2019, another AC-land prepared a revised list of Bangshi riverbank grabbers. In this new list, names of 134 persons and institutions were mentioned.
The list was submitted before the National River Conservation Commission (NRCC). Subsequently, NRCC uploaded it to its website.
Along with this list, NRCC disclosed another list, where it named 100 persons and institutions who were grabbing the Dhaleshwari riverbank.
NRCC then forwarded the lists to the district administration, asking it to take necessary measures to evict the illegal structures and take legal action against the grabbers.
But to this day, no eviction drive has been conducted, nor has any grabber been punished, according to sources at the district administration.
Now, the administration officials are claiming that they would launch the long-awaited eviction drives soon.
"In the past, we could not conduct the drives due to multiple reasons. But hopefully, we will begin soon," said Mazaharul Islam, Upazila Nirbahi Officer (UNO) of Savar.
However, the UNO, who is the government's administrative chief
at upazila level, could not provide a specific reason for the failure to conduct drives.
Islam also told The Daily Star that river boundary demarcation pillars will be set up on the banks of both rivers soon.
The upazila administration has recently demolished at least eight illegal structures at Baktarpur area, he claimed.
Contacted, NRCC Chairperson ASM Ali Kabir said the commission does not have the directive to evict the illegal structures – it can only issue directives to the authorities concerned.
"The district administration is responsible to act as per the directives," he added.
During recent visits to the area, it was noticed that in addition to big corporations, individuals, social organisations, kitchen market authorities, and even Savar municipal authorities are continuously filling up the riverbanks.
Meanwhile, illegal sand trading is going on at Katlapur Balughat, Baktarpur, and Nayarhat areas, occupying the Bangshi riverbank.
Additionally, several hundred illegal structures have been constructed on the banks of both rivers for 10 kilometres at a stretch, from Tetuljhara area to Nayarhat.
Environmentalists say the actual number of riverbank grabbers is much higher than what NRCC estimates.
"No action has been taken by district administration to evict the land grabbers. We are now planning to file a writ petition before court on this matter," said Rafiqul Islam Mollah, president of Savar Nodi O Poribesh Unnayon Parishad.
Meanwhile, Savar municipal authorities and a local kitchen market committee are at loggerheads over dumping garbage on the riverbanks.
Human waste and garbage are dumped across a few places – Katlapur, Namabazar and Baktar – on the Bangshi riverbank. During the visit, this correspondent witnessed Savar municipality cleaners dumping garbage along the bank.
However, contacted, municipal mayor Haji Abdul Gani denied the occurrence, blaming the local kitchen market traders for dumping waste there.
Savar Bazar Baboshaye Kallyan Samity general secretary Anwar Dewan denied the allegation, claiming that the municipal authorities are the ones responsible for dumping waste there.