Stopping slow death of Dhaka rivers

Dhaka,  Thu,  21 September 2017
Published : 01 Dec 2016, 21:56:11

Stopping slow death of Dhaka rivers

Chronic public apathy apart, the slow death of four rivers surrounding Dhaka city can now be singularly blamed on the defiance of the grabbers of their foreshore lands. In spite of the repeated official measures taken to prevent them, they have increasingly proved their invincibility. Then there are the laidback posture of the authorities concerned in strictly implementing the laws and rules framed for the rivers' protection and also their collusive activities. In the meantime, the rivers are gasping for breath as the swoop on them keeps getting tighter. Alongside encroachment, dumping of waste and pollutants also continues unabated. That the four rivers -- the Buriganga, the Balu, the Turag and the Shitalakhya --are in their death throes needs no elaboration. Environmental and rights activists, the media and city planners have long been keeping the issue in a broad focus. But all these efforts and initiatives prove futile most of the time.

What makes the conscious city dwellers feel highly dispirited is the tendency on the part of the rivers' official custodians to bypass judicial orders on saving these lifelines. In a landmark judgement in 2009, the High Court ordered the administration to demarcate the boundaries of the four dying rivers of the capital. But appallingly, the authorities concerned placed the demarcation pillars for marking out the river foreshores in a skewed manner. Especially in the case of the Turag, the pillars along its banks were placed during its lean flow in the dry-season watermark. What resulted was the exclusion of vast tracts of land along the river from the restricted foreshores and wetlands. With the wrong marking of the Turag foreshores, as had been feared, began the organised grabbing of the riverbank lands. Already part of the river have been filled up and droves of new grabbers joined the plunder to claim their share through earth-filling and raising structures.

To the great relief of the conscious people and rights activists, the country's Supreme Court (SC) has, however intervened to stop the frenzy. The SC's order came, consequent upon filing of a writ petition by the Human Rights and Peace for Bangladesh with the Chamber Judge's Court after a real estate company moved the High Court to recover its land grabbed in the area outside the Turag foreshore, marked wrongly in 2009.The country's apex court thus froze a High Court status quo issued on the company's prayer. The SC stay order leads to allowing the re-demarcated pillars installed according to the river's high season to remain in place. In these days of blatant disregard for government orders on protecting rivers and public lands, the people and the activists are made to turn to their only recourse: the judiciary. In this regard, the 2013 historic verdict of the SC may be remembered. In that judgement, it directed a private developer to restore in six months the lands of a flood-flow zone reclaimed by it on the city's northern outskirts.

It is incumbent on the authorities to save the rivers around Dhaka in the interest of the capital. Although belated, yet these rivers can be saved if a coordinated long-term plan is chalked out. The SC verdict has to be implemented in toto. A committee has to be formed with experts, which will suggest how best the job can be done.

Editor : A.H.M Moazzem Hossain
Published by the Editor for International Publications Limited from Tropicana Tower (4th floor), 45, Topkhana Road, GPO Box : 2526 Dhaka- 1000 and printed by him from City Publishing House Ltd., 1 RK Mission Road, Dhaka-1000.
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