Will Ichhamati ever flow again?
We are utterly disappointed at the failure of a project undertaken to save our once-mighty river Ichhamati – by increasing its navigability and freeing up its banks – that flows through Pabna district. Reportedly, the implementation of the Tk 8.15 crore project has been stopped midway due to cases filed by the encroachers and lack of coordination between Bangladesh Water Development Board (BWDB) and the project implementation company TTSL.
According to our report, BWDB started dredging 5.67 kilometres of the river to increase its navigability under a project worth Tk 5.46 crore in March 2021. Although the project was supposed to end in June this year, TTSL could only complete 30 percent of the work by that time and left the project site some months ago. As a result, the re-excavated part of the river has been covered with silt again, meaning that Tk 95 lakh of public money was spent in vain.
The other Tk. 2.69 crore project to evict the illegal encroachers from the riverbank also faced an abrupt end because the encroachers have filed a series of related cases. Although a total of 610 illegal structures out of 1053 have been removed from the riverbank as of now, the authorities cannot continue the eviction drives due to stay orders by the court. Many grabbers are trying to take advantage of this and reoccupy the land on the riverbank.
From the present situation of this project, it is clear that there has been a serious lack of coordination between WDB and TTSL. Otherwise, how can a company leave a project site without completing the work? Is there no accountability of the firm concerned? And why didn't the WDB hand over the entire project site to the TTSL? The company is now claiming that it was unable to complete the project because the entire project site was not given to them. While the WDB must clear the confusion regarding this and reveal the truth, the TTSL must also answer why they did not listen to the repeated pleas of the WDB to complete the excavation work.
Another question that we must ask is, how can river grabbers file cases against eviction activities? As we know, a few years back, the National River Conservation Commission (NRCC) prepared a list of grabbers across the country. What happened to that list? Has any action been taken against the identified grabbers?
The failure of this project has once again proved that saving our rivers from illegal encroachment and indiscriminate pollution is not an easy job. It will need well-coordinated planning and sincere efforts from all stakeholders concerned to implement such interventions. Random projects, taken at a whim, will not produce results. The BWDB, BIWTA, NRCC, and all other relevant agencies must come together and chalk out a plan to save whatever is left of our rivers. Equally importantly, the opinions of the local people must be heard while implementing such projects in future. And the 17-point High Court directive, given in 2009, should be our guidelines in all our endeavours to protect rivers.