Though the recent strong drive against river encroachers raised a new hope for protecting the country’s rivers, green activists think the desired success cannot be achieved unless proper steps are taken to keep the reclaimed lands out of the clutches of grabbers.
Just after recovering the occupied river lands, the authorities concerned will have to set up demarcation pillars, give the river land to rivers back by dredging, planting trees, building walkways on the river banks and ensuring monitoring by river police to prevent the reoccupation of the reclaimed lands as happened in the past, they said.
The green activists also suggested engaging local people in the river protection efforts so that they can resist the grabbers and inform law enforcers if anyone makes any fresh effort to occupy the retrieved land.
Officials at the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA) said they bulldozed 1721 illegal structures, including several multistoried buildings built by influential people, along the Buriganga and Turag rivers in the first phase of their drive between January 29 and February 20.
BIWTA Joint Director (port) AKM Arif Uddin said they also recovered around 35 acres of grabbed land during their first phase of the eviction drive.
He said they will launch the second phase drive on March 5 and gradually reclaim the occupied lands of all other rivers.
The government has intensified the drives in the capital and elsewhere as the High Court on January 30 last described rivers as a “legal entity” and asked the authorities concerned to act like their “guardians” to save them from grabbers and pollution.
Contacted, Ainun Nishat, Professor Emeritus of BRAC University, and water resource specialist, said BIWTA is demolishing the structures erected by filling rivers. “I think the authorities should now back the recovered lands to rivers by dredging or excavating those to ensure their proper flow.”
Or else, he said, the recovered lands will be either misused by the BIWTA or encroached again by the influential people.
Iqbal Habib, an architect and member secretary of Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (BAPA), said it seems the government is carrying out the current drive with sincerity. “But we saw many such drives in the past. A few days after recovering the river lands, the encroachers recaptured those for lack of monitoring and necessary steps to protect those.”
He said strong riverbank protection measures are needed to be taken right now instead of only deploying some Ansar members to guard the repossessed land.
“Demarcation pillars will have to set up first. Then, sapling will have to be planted on the riverbanks alongside constant monitoring by the river police. Finally, walkways will have to be made. Otherwise, the encroachers will again relish on the river land,” he said.
Habib said involving local people with the process of river protection steps is necessary. “A digital map will have to be created so that local people can easily identify the river lands.”
Poribesh Bachao Andolon (Poba) Chairman Abu Naser Khan said the government must continue the drive across the country until all the occupied river lands are recovered.
He said the land grabbers should also be given exemplary punishment so that no one dare occupy river lands in the future.
Naser also said the government will have to empower National River Conservation Commission (NRCC) as per the High Court order so that it can work as a strong authority to protect the rivers and take action against the encroachers and polluters.
NRCC Chairman Dr Muzibur Rahman Howlader said they have already directed all the deputy commissioners to submit a report by each on river pollution and grabbing in their respective districts by February 28.
“We’ve received some reports by the time, and we’re expecting to get the rest shortly. Once we get all the reports, we’ll asses those for working out the next course of action,” he said.
Besides, Rahman said they visited around 60 districts over the last one year and held meetings with every district’s River Protection Committee members involving a cross section of people, including environmentalists, civil society members, local elite and administration.
“We’re now making a detailed report on the problems of the rivers and water bodies across the country with suggestions for their solutions. We’re expecting to hand over the report to the Prime Minister by this month,” he said.
The NRCC chief said no one will be able to remerge on the recovered river lands this time as the government has taken various projects for the protection and development of rivers.
He said they will propose taking some crash programmes to secure the recovered lands and free the rivers from pollution. “We’ll also propose engaging adequate number of river police to regularly monitor and protect the rivers. We’re working out various programmes and action plans to work as a true guardian of the rivers as per the direction of the High Court.”