In yet another landmark judgment, the High Court has issued detailed orders to the government laying out various measures to reclaim and save our rivers. In the judgment, on a case filed by Human Rights and Peace for Bangladesh, the Court has suggested such actions and amendments of laws which the legislators, and the administration, should have done long ago to save the nation's lifeline.
While we thank the Court for its very comprehensive guidance, we recall an earlier judgment, in 2009, laying out a laundry list of things to do for the administration to resuscitate the moribund rivers, particularly the five major ones. The prescription suggested action to save them from encroachment and pollution, among other things. Regrettably, a harmful nexus between powerful vested quarters and a section of the administration has put paid to the intention of the government to reclaim the rivers and restore them to their original state. The orders and directives of the highest court of the land were implemented, but only as per the way that suited the vested quarters, as the demarcation of the rivers shows.
We seem to have forgotten—given the way that we treat our rivers and the very lackadaisical effort to preserve them—that civilisation flourished or perished because of rivers. We had been consistently calling on the government to equip the National River Protection Commission, which was set up in September 2014 following the HC directives of 2009, with adequate powers. While its task is to protect the rivers, it is actually merely a recommending body and lacks the power to implement any of its decisions. Hopefully, it will be accorded more tooth to accomplish its tasks following the orders.
The 450 or so rivers (of all sizes) that help us survive are under threat; many of them have disappeared altogether. We suggest that a national survey be carried out to determine the current status of all the major rivers. However, we believe that the High Court's orders can only come as relief for our rivers if those are implemented quickly, with due diligence and without fear or favour.