Killing of the Boral River
I attended a training course at the US Army Armor School at Fort Knox, Kentucky in 1989 where I learnt something interesting about US Army engineers. Like the engineering corps of other armies, including Bangladesh's, they perform the traditional role of combat engineering, barring the enemy's movement while enhancing their own mobility. They were involved in the construction of many landmarks in the US, like the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco and the Pentagon. But they also perform a different role which was not known to me—they are responsible for the inland waters of the US. The army engineering corps thus protect the nation's aquatic environments—oceans, rivers, lakes, streams, ponds, and wetlands.
Over the years, we are also seeing Bangladesh Army engineers being involved in large infrastructure projects like national highways and the Padma Bridge. The corps have gained public confidence in managing and successfully commissioning the projects. They are doing a praiseworthy job in handling these. I often hear my friends saying that the projects will surely be done since the army is involved. They also cite the projects that are lingering in development due to mismanagement.
An editorial in The Daily Star on July 24 titled "Killing of Boral River: Government's apathy to encroachment, pollution is the main factor" caught my attention. It describes how the Boral river in Natore is being destroyed through illegal encroachment and pollution, with the newspaper finding "an entire housing society that has occupied a large chunk of the Boral river—built under the noses of the local administration." I think it is not only the government's apathy; there is an apathy in all of us. We are all to be blamed for what is happening to the beautiful rivers we have.
The image of the Boral River that comes up when you search online is of a beautiful small river with clean blue water. Anyone seeing the picture will cry out, "Are we going to kill this river? Can we not do something about it?" We have all been reading about such encroachment and illegal constructions blocking the waterways of Lakhya River and others.
The Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA) and other government agencies are responsible for checking illegal encroachment and pollution of our rivers. We saw that these agencies have surveyed and placed marker pillars but yielded no positive results with regard to these problems. Most of the perpetrators are in sociopolitical leadership positions and have enough clout to take on government agencies. We saw some of such demonstrations of power over the Lakhya River by a late lawmaker. These are just the tip of the iceberg—if we look around, we see them displaying their signboards deep in the khals, beels and rivers.
Bangladesh Army engineers have a unique organisation of riverine engineers as well, or as we call them—RE Battalions. These were trained to guard riverine approaches into the country against any military incursion or invasion. Their organisation and equipment are drawn up in such a way that they are capable of defending any riverine approach. The battalions have small armed watercrafts besides large landing crafts for transporting tanks, artillery guns, and logistics along the riverine routes. The cantonment at Postagola is the home of a few of these battalions, and two other battalions are located in the Jamuna and Padma Bridges. There is also a company in Kaptai that provides riverine support at Kaptai Lake.
I would like to propose that Bangladesh Army engineers be given the responsibility of protecting our rivers from these heartless, greedy, short-sighted grabbers immediately. I call upon none other than our Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who is also the Defence Minister, to look into the matter immediately and save our rivers, waters, and our future.
The author is a retired Brigadier General of the Bangladesh Army.