Moving against canal and river grabbers
The Dhaka district administration means to reclaim five canals within the capital city within this month. That sounds like a decisive move and we hope it is. We are also enthused by the idea of the administration taking those who have been developing housing projects illegally through encroaching on the Buriganga, Turag and Balu rivers to task. Now, such moves are clearly reflective of public concern on everything that has been happening to our canals and rivers, a worry which has for a long time been reflected in editorial comments and even judicial moves. Obviously, the grabbing which has gone on where canals and rivers are concerned has had grave ramifications for the environment, not to say a clear disrespect for the law on the part of those responsible. Now that the district administration has resolved to recover such lost public property, we hope the enterprise succeeds. For that to happen, the authorities must take into account the recent High Court directive regarding a demarcation of rivers in a concrete manner and ensure that the recovered canals and rivers are protected by green zones around them.
And, of course, such an undertaking has to succeed for the simple reason that if it does not, the incentive and encouragement for those violating the law or intending to violate the law will soon see them return with renewed vigour and vengeance. One need hardly recount the many instances of land grabbing and land filling that have happened around us, and not just in the capital itself. Over the years, powerful sections of people, in cahoots with unscrupulous elements in the various departments of the government, have openly as well as stealthily spread their tentacles to claim land and water bodies not theirs. Rivers have been filled in with sand and canals have as good as disappeared. While in some cases the authorities have come forward to reclaim these canals and rivers, it has been seen that as soon as they turn their back once such grabbed property has been retrieved (think here of the Haikkar canal), the grabbers have returned to seize it again. It is a menace the authorities must take into cognizance as they go into the job of getting back the canals and rivers. It will not be an easy job, seeing that the district administration will require all the force it can muster --- and more --- to face down the grabbers and really make sure that the reclaimed public property is never again tampered with.
Even as the canals and rivers are reclaimed, the authorities must ensure that criminal charges are filed against the grabbers and they are proceeded with. To date no grabber of a canal or riverbed has been proceeded against. The suspicion remains that powerful elements, among whom are local political forces, have been behind the seizure of many of these canals and the filling in of the riverbeds. Unless these elements are swiftly identified and acted against, there is a danger that the resolve of the administration will simply peter out.