River drive in week
The government will launch an all-out eviction drive against river grabbers around the capital within the next seven or ten days, decided the first meeting of a high-powered taskforce committee on river recovery held at the shipping ministry yesterday.
It also ordered the deputy commissioners (DC) of Dhaka, Narayanganj, Gazipur, Munshiganj, and Manikganj to complete surveys and demarcation of the rivers Buriganga, Shitalakhya, Balu, and Turag around Dhaka by November 30 in compliance with the High Court directives.
The government formed the 27-member taskforce committee on August 24 merging a previously formed taskforce, and the Taskforce Implementation Committee to evict river grabbers, ensure navigability and natural flow of the rivers, conserve the environment, and to restore the river system.
The taskforce, headed by Shipping Minister Shahjahan Khan, is primarily intended for reclaiming the four rivers around Dhaka and other important rivers of the country from the clutches of grabbers and polluters. It comprises four ministers and two state ministers among others.
Shahjahan Khan said Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA) will soon arrange a tour by the taskforce members to see firsthand the condition of Dhaka rivers.
"We will immediately write to polluting industries, Dhaka City Corporation, Dhaka Wasa, and Mitford Hospital forbidding them to dump wastes into the rivers," he said.
Commercial launch operators will be asked not to dump wastes in the rivers, but to collect them in waste bins.
A total of 19 mosques have been built encroaching upon the four rivers around Dhaka, he added.
The shipping ministry already decided to build walkways and driveways to protect the riverbanks as well.
Dr Hasan Mahmud, state minister for environment and forests, said waterlogging and flooding in the capital city could be solved by enhancing the water carrying capacity of the rivers around Dhaka through dredging.
Mahfuz Anam, editor and publisher of The Daily Star also a member of the taskforce, said, "In recovery of the rivers, lies the revival of Bangladesh."
He suggested that the government strictly instructs the polluting industries and government agencies to stop river pollution within the shortest possible time.
Shipping Secretary (in-charge) Md Abdul Mannan Howlader said there are 31 industrial outlets that release untreated toxic industrial effluents into the rivers Buriganga and Shitalakhya.
Out of 110 kilometres length of the rivers around Dhaka, at least 30 to 40 kilometres stretch needs walkways as riverbank protection, he said.
Sanjida Khanom, a lawmaker from Dhaka, said there are 600 factories and industries in Shyampur area that directly release untreated toxic effluents into the river.
"There should be a provision of exorbitant fines to penalise the river grabbers and polluters," she suggested.
State Minister for Housing and Public Works Mannan Khan said, "No river grabber or land grabber can sustain without the patronage of powerful quarters."
In many cases the land and river grabbers manipulate the name of the ruling party, he said.
Law Minister Barrister Shafique Ahmed, Water Resources Minister Ramesh Chandr Sen, State Minister for Land Mostafizur Rahman, lawmakers, Editor of the English daily Bangladesh Observer Iqbal Sobhan Chowdhury, Editor of the vernacular Daily Ittefaq Rahat Khan, secretaries concerned, Country Representative of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Dr Ainun Nishat, and environmental activists among others were present.
The first meeting was adjourned to resume on October 23 or 24, and the committee decided to meet once every two months.
The High Court on June 25 issued a number of directives upon the government to save the rivers around the capital from encroachment and pollution.