A private dockyard company has been building two slipways in the Meghna river in Munshiganj’s Gazaria upazila even after the National River Commission asked the firm to stop its work and free the river.
The company, Khan Brothers Slipways and Engineering Works, does not have the licence to use the river foreshore, which is mandatory. It also does not have the clearance from the shipping and environment departments to erect structures on river land.
It began building the two slipways, each 18,000 square feet, several months ago well below the river’s dry season lowest watermark.
The company also put up a makeshift enclosure at Char Betagin Hossendi mouja of Gazaria upazila, on the west bank of the Meghna.
On February 9, The Daily Star ran a report on the grabbing titled “Meghna too not spared”. Two days later, the National River Commission chairman visited the site and asked the company to free the river, said Gulzar Ali, BIWTA joint director at Narayanganj River Port.
In a notice on February 18, the Commission chairman also directed the BIWTA and the Munshiganj district administration to stop the company from stealing the river land, said Gulzar.
BIWTA officials said that in January they had decided to issue the company a licence to use 138 decimals of the river foreshore, but that decision was later revoked.
Foreshore is the sub-soil lying between the lowest watermark during normal dry season tide and the highest watermark during normal monsoon tide.
In a notice on February 7, the river custodian asked Khan Brothers to stop filling up the Meghna foreshore and also clear whatever work they have done on the river land.
The commission also warned the company of legal action, including contempt of court proceedings, if it failed to do so.
But during a follow-up visit on February 19, this correspondent saw the construction work was still on and the slipways were near complete.
Tofayel Kabir Khan, managing director of Khan Brothers Group, said they had removed the enclosure and stopped the construction work.
When pointed out that The Daily Star saw workers building the slipways, he said, “We needed to finish the job during the dry season as we cannot do it during monsoon.”
But he had earlier admitted that they encroached upon 4,500 square feet area, some 150 feet into the river with BIWTA’s “verbal approval”.
Saila Farzana, deputy commissioner of Munshiganj, said they could not evict the high-profile grabbers such as Khan Brothers as they were busy with other work.
Asked about their action, Gulzar said, “We served an eviction notice on them and will go for eviction once we get the equipment.”
Grabbing a river or obstructing or diverting its natural flow is a violation of Bangladesh Water Act, 2013.
In a landmark verdict in 2009, the High Court also declared all such activities illegal.
The BIWTA also cited this verdict in its February 7 notice to the company.
Informed that the firm was going on with the construction and the slipways were almost ready, Gulzar said, “We will soon go for eviction.”
Meanwhile, the BIWTA is likely to launch a four-day drive to evict the Meghna grabbers from Char Balaki in Gazaria to Baidyer Bazar in Sonargaon.
Char Betagi is a low-lying shoal near another shoal named Char Balaki, both of which are surrounded by the Meghna, at the confluence where the Shitalakkhya and the Dhaleshwari flow into the Meghna.
In many cases, river grabbers first manage some documents claiming ownership of shoal land. They then fill up the shoal area and beyond it, and gradually alter the natural course of the river, officials said.