Another river on its death bed
We're quite disturbed by the news of yet another river, Mayur in Khulna, being killed by indiscriminate dumping of waste and encroachment – the usual suspects. It's like an unstoppable cycle that keeps repeating with one river after another being left lifeless by the apathy and callousness of people. Add to that the insatiable appetite for land grabbing and you have a formula for this unfathomable "rivercide".
It is unfathomable because we know just how precious rivers are, being the lifelines for communities that live near them and for the country as a whole. Even the High Court has recognised the value of our rivers, declaring them as "living entities" and instructing the state to protect them as such. There have been attempts to remove encroachers through making lists as well as launching cleaning operations, but eventually, everything is undone, and the rivers continue to face onslaughts as before.
In the case of Mayur River, which is the main source of fresh water for the two-lakh people living in adjacent areas, around 26 drains pour most of Khulna city's waste into it. Water hyacinth, which reduces oxygen levels for fish and creates the ideal habitat for disease-carrying mosquitoes, has also invaded the water. Meanwhile, the sluice gate built to protect agricultural land from salinity and tidal surges has become virtually useless. Pollution is killing aquatic life, affecting the livelihoods of fishermen and farmers.
The eventual death of the Mayur was a forgone conclusion. But have the authorities done anything at all to stop this? In 2019, a list of illegal land grabbers was made by a technical committee, containing the names of 470 individuals and organisations responsible for constructing 362 establishments. It is now 2022, but the river-land grabbers have not gone away. Why is that? In addition, excavation projects costing crores of taka have amounted to nothing because the city corporation allegedly did not conduct a proper survey or technical analysis before the work.
This is a story that repeats itself with most of the rivers that are either dead or on the verge of death. Buriganga, Teesta, Dhaleshwari, Shitalakhya, Balu, Karatoya, Turag – the list of dead or dying rivers seems endless. And we are quite aware by now about what needs to be done to save the rivers. This paper has continuously campaigned for the protection of rivers over the decades, but little heed has been paid to these appeals. We need political commitment, proper enforcement of the laws, empowerment of the National River Conservation Commission (NRCC) and upholding of the High Court's directives that demonstrate the crucial role of rivers.
In all this, the most urgent is political commitment, which is needed to make other measures successful. We urge the authorities to take urgent steps to save our rivers.