The government has finalised the drafts of 2 ten-year master plans to save four rivers surrounding capital Dhaka and the Karnaphuli in port city Chattogram. The drafts have been finalised at a meeting held at LGRD and cooperative ministry on Wednesday.
LGRD and Cooperative Minister Md Tajul Islam and officials of different ministries concerned attended the meeting. Another master plan will be drawn to save Padma, Meghna, Turag and Pungli rivers. The LGRD minister while briefing reporters after the meeting said as about sixty five per cent population residing in the country’s rural areas and facing the dearth of urban facilities the present government has embarked on a multidimensional plan to equip villages with urban amenities.
“If we want to turn Bangladesh into a developed nation, we will have to empower the rural people so that they can enjoy all modern civic amenities. In this regard, we will have to free our rivers from pollution and grabbers,” he said. Besides, it is urgently needed to bring back navigability to the country’s rivers. The members of the river saving task force formed earlier as per the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s directive, discussed the issue widely in the meeting.
“The taskforce finalised the drafts of the master plans. Discussions also took place on the drafts. After the discussion, checking and crosschecking, I have approved the drafts in principle. The meeting also has decided to form a working group. And these drafts will be placed before Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina,” he added. The working group has been assigned to distribute work to the concerned ministries, he said, adding it has already begun its work.
Tajul Islam said as Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has attached highest importance on the issue, she also has lot of knowledge about this. “If she wants she will insert some information in the draft,” he said. Replying to a query about the master plans, the LGRD minister termed it as crash programme.
“We have taken short, mid and long term programmes to implement the master plan,” he said, adding they have fixed 10 year plan. He said they had already launched an initial crash programme. “An initial crash programme has already been launched. As part of the crash programme, rivers surrounding the capital Dhaka are being freed from encroachers and illegal structures,” he said. He said they were evicting illegal structures from the banks of the rivers Buriganga, Shitalakhya and Balu in order to build 52-kilometre walkways on the riversides at first to make sure that these banks don't get occupied in the future again.
“A total of 220 kilometres of walkways would be built on riversides surrounding the capital in phases. Rivers are the lifeline of the nation and the country would not exist if the rivers are gone,” the minister said. According to the taskforce committee sources, after building walkway, the Dhaka Water Supply and Sewerage Authority (DWASA) will begin sanitation work. Sewerage line will also be repaired in order to protect the rivers from polluted water.
The taskforce is also working on wastage in order to generate power from it. The taskforce is also monitoring to stop discharging wastes into rivers as water pollution appeared to be a severe problem for the country. According to the draft of the master plan, regular dredging is urgently needed to keep up the river-water flow. The rivers that flow around capital Dhaka see a gradual decrease in water flow and are heading towards virtual death due to huge deposition of silt in absence of regular dredging.
As a result waters of these rivers cannot be treated properly. Earlier the government declared four rivers surrounding Dhaka city as Ecologically Critical Area (ECA) as part of the plan to protect the rivers from encroachment as well as conservation of the biodiversity of the ancient water courses. In September 2009, the four rivers -- Buriganga, Shitalakhya, Turag and Balu – were declared by the Department of Environment as ECAs.
The Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority knocked down a large number of illegal structures, including one three-storey and five two-storey buildings, which were built along four rivers banks surrounding capital Dhaka. Beside, Chattrogram district administration also demolished a huge number of illegal structures along the Karnaphuli river. A large number of rivers in the country, including the Buriganga, Shitalakhya, Dhaleshwari, Turag and Balu, are in dire straits.
Exact data are not available, but environmentalists and journalists working on the issue say most of the around 450 rivers in the country face serious threats because of ruthless grabbing and pollution. In a 2009 judgment, the HC detailed measures to recover the ailing Dhaka rivers from land grabbers and save them from pollution. At the time, the court ordered the administration to demarcate the boundary of the Buriganga, Shitalakhya, Dhaleshwari, Turag and Balu.
This apparently turned out to be the “death warrant” for the rivers. Demarcation pillars were set up along the river banks during the lean flow of dry season waterline, excluding some 2,500 acres of foreshores and wetlands of the five rivers. Now, under a new project, the government will install some 12,000 demarcation pillars along the Dhaka rivers.