Strangled by land grabbers, the once mighty Turag river, fondly called Kahar Daria in yester years, now virtually lies on its death bed.
People, from nursery owners and sand traders to industrialists and businessmen, are extensively filling up the river and erecting structures as if it was there for them to grab.
“We used to fish and bathe in the clear water of this river in our childhood, when it was wide and mighty,” an elderly Ansar Hossain of Tongi told this correspondent during one of his recent visits.
But today, the river is nothing more than an ailing lean flow with powerful land grabbers choking it ruthlessly from both the sides, he said.
The 38km river stretching from Kholamora to Teramukh across Tongi has been shrunk to virtually a stream under the very nose of the district administration, Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA), Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha, Department of Environment and police.
During a number of visits in recent weeks, this correspondent found the river being massively filled up near Birulia Bridge, Dhour Bridge, Protyasha Bridge, Kamarpara Bridge and at scores of other sites along Tongi-Ashulia Link Road.
Land grabbers have been driving death nails into the Turag's existence over the past three years as the district administration had wrongly set up boundary pillars along the dry-season waterline excluding extensive foreshore area, integral to a river, said officials.
Authorities of Lamichha Spinning Mills have filled a 9,292 square metre area of the Turag's foreshore at Bhadam mouja while an unidentified claimant on the other side has earth-filled nearly an acre right in the middle of the river at Bhakral mouja, narrowing the river down to a stream near Dhour Bridge.
Kamrul Hasan, deputy town planner of Rajuk, who was in a team to pull down the spinning mill on March 10, said the site is designated as flood flow zone in the Detailed Area Plan of Dhaka.
On that day, the Rajuk team went to demolish the gigantic under-construction structure with only 10 labourers equipped with six hammers and all they did was dismantling some bricks, staging a farce in the name of eviction.
Md Anwarul Islam Ferdous, a director of Anotex Group that owns Lamichha Spinning Mills, said after the said eviction drive, they went to the High Court that stayed any eviction move against the structure for four months and they completed construction of the factory building during the stay.
Asked why the BIWTA issued licence for a factory on the river foreshore based on faulty demarcation pillars, Md Saiful Islam, joint director of the BIWTA, said, “The boundary pillars could be reset later.”
The BIWTA along with Gazipur district administration embarked on a similar two-day drive on April 14 to clear massive earth filling opposite the spinning mill and remove a 16,000 square feet concrete wall on 36 decimals of river area by a private university.
This move too ended up in a sheer farce as the ill-prepared and ill-equipped BIWTA team could do nothing more than removing some timber and concrete pillars of the protection wall.
Dhaka Central International Medical College and Hospital authorities have filled up 1.34 acres into the Turag river from the boundary pillar in Machhimpur mouja near Kamarpara Bridge and currently they are building concrete guide wall in the middle of the river to demarcate "their land".
Director of project Abul Kalam said hospital's chairman Md Motazzaroul Islam "somehow" procured the land and wants to retain its possession.
Close to this site, Bangladesh Shahid Smriti Foundation has proposed a plant nursery on more than half an acre of land constructing similar guide walls in the river.
Jasimuddin Shikder, president of the foundation, said that they have taken lease of the "land" and the nursery owners filled it up and built the boundary walls in the river. He refused to provide the contact details of these owners.
In a similar fashion, scores of land claimants and sand traders have filled up the river opposite to Bishwa Ijtema ground and along the embankment stretch from Kamarpara to Ashulia.
When his attention was drawn to these, BIWTA Director Abul Bashar, though responsible for conserving rivers within river port areas, declined to make any comment saying, “The port officer knows better.”
Md Saiful Islam, in-charge of Dhaka river port, said, “We have nothing to do to save Dhaka rivers, including the Turag, unless the district administration hands over those to us along with foreshores [demarcated] accordingly."
Md Nurul Islam, deputy commissioner of Gazipur, said, “We had to make compromises in some cases, as some individuals somehow became owners of the land inside the river.”
“It is true that a massive destruction of the Turag is on ... We will soon sit to discuss it,” he told The Daily Star.
One may recall that the HC in a 2009 judgment clearly defined the foreshores as an integral part of a river and directed the government to save those.