Public pond’s fate hangs by a thread | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, November 24, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 01:26 AM, November 24, 2020

Public pond’s fate hangs by a thread

Illegal structures on one of the largest ponds in Habiganj town has left it in its death throes

Habiganj town's one of the largest government-owned ponds -- on nearly 200 decimals of land -- is right across the office of Water Development Board (WDB).

But not too many of the town's residents would be able to identify the pond anymore.

Various structures including over 60 shops -- made of corrugated iron sheets -- occupying it on three sides and a truck stand on the other would make it difficult for anyone to believe that a huge pond existed there several years back.  

Once called a town of ponds, Habiganj has lost its fervour. With most of its ponds and large water bodies destroyed, within just the last decade, the town is headed for an environmental catastrophe.

In the middle of all the establishments, the remainder of the pond across the WDB office is now filled up with garbage and covered in bushes and shrubs.

To make matters worse, instead of taking steps against the encroachers, the Habiganj municipality has decided to destroy any signs of the pond by building a shopping mall on its land, said locals.

In the latest municipality budget, announced recently, the authorities even allocated Tk 5 crore for the purpose -- a decision that is being opposed vehemently by environmentalists and concerned citizens alike, they also said. 

During a visit to the town, this correspondent had trouble locating the pond due to the surrounding structures and a large number of trucks parked at the truck stand, all of which were built encroaching on the pond.  

Tofazzal Sohel, general secretary of Habiganj unit of Bangladesh Paribesh Andolon (Bapa) and also a national council member of the organisation, told this correspondent that there are over 60 shops of different kinds -- including restaurants, barber shops, clothing and shoe stores -- on three sides of the 200-decimal pond and only about 50 decimals of it is still visible in the middle now.

The filled up pond now cannot hold any water and that is one of the reasons why the surrounding areas are getting waterlogged after even light showers. 

Bapa has sent a memorandum to the town mayor, demanding cancellation of the fund that has been allocated for the proposed construction of the mall on the pond and also removal of all types of installations from the pond, he added.

Even two decades ago, locals used to bathe in the pond and use its water for household work, reminisced Ali Ahsan Chowdhury Pintu, a resident in the neighbourhood.

After year 2000, a number of street vendors first started to sit around the pond with their merchandise. Then the pond started to shrink gradually as influential locals started building tin structures on three sides of its banks, he also said. 

When asked whether the municipality had any role to play in the gradual disappearance of such a large pond in the town, Golam Kibria, market inspector of the municipality, said the town authorities did not have any hand in the act. Rather, the hawkers set up shops by occupying the pond and transport workers built the truck stand on their own.

Habiganj Mayor Mizanur Rahman said, "I became mayor by winning the by-election only a year ago. But long before that, makeshift shops around the pond and the truck stand were already there.

"Since the pond had already been filled, it was decided that a shopping mall would be built there... Now, if the environmentalists raise objections to the filling up of the pond and construction of the shopping mall there, the municipal authorities will surely reconsider the matter," he added.

Contacted, Habiganj Additional Deputy Commissioner (Revenue) Tareq Mohammad Zakaria said destruction of ponds is detrimental to the environment and the district administration has plans to save and revive all public ponds that have been occupied or filled up illegally.

Speaking with this correspondent, National River Conservation Commission Chairman Muzibur Rahman Howlader said according to the Natural Reservoir Conservation Act, no municipality can fill up any pond in any way.

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