The National River Conservation Commission (NRCC) has identified over 45,148 powerful individuals, business establishments and institutes as river grabbers across the country. Deputy Commissioners of all districts are going to undertake a one-year crash programme against grabbers across the country. Environmentalists have cited that some 450 rivers need protection if we are to save the general populace from harm and pollution. Reportedly, 77 rivers have totally disappeared from the map of Bangladesh with their beds serving as croplands. Such a fact indeed is a strong indictment of the departments responsible for protection of the country’s water-bodies. We are not only facing an onslaught by river grabbers and encroachers, lack of awareness amongst the general populace who willfully and callously dump all sorts of waste in the canals and rivers which ultimately end up choking rivers and canals, is equally to blame.
Earlier, the High Court ordered the government to make a list of every grabber to expose them to the public. Following the HC directive, city corporations, district administrations and the Bangladesh Inland Transport Authority (BIWTA) jointly began eviction drives against illegal structures built on river banks in capital Dhaka, Chittagong and Khulna. But in many cases the drives are being barred due to cases filed by the grabbers. It is however, for the first time the NRCC has appointed lawyers for launching a legal battle against the grabbers and polluters.
We have been repeatedly highlighting the sorry plight of our rivers in this newspaper. We do not need to reiterate the vital role rivers play in sustaining human habitats and it is time to take stern actions against the river encroachers empowering the departments concerned to confront these powerful syndicates.
Population pressures, reckless encroachment and developmental imperatives may have led to overexploitation of our rivers, but poor planning and willful neglect breaking the organic links between rivers, nature and people is no longer acceptable. Pollution of rivers through discharge of industrial effluents, municipal waste and generation of thermal energy must also be checked. Act now or prepare for desertification.