The government has intensified drives in Dhaka and elsewhere to evict river grabbers, while also mulling a Tk 850 crore project to save the four rivers around the capital.
The move comes after the High Court ordered the government to protect every river, terming rivers a “legal entity” and asking the authorities to act like their “guardians”.
Yesterday, the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA) knocked down 211 illegal structures, including one three-storey and five two-storey buildings, that were built along the Buriganga at Ashrafabad in Kamrangirchar.
With them, the BIWTA demolished 656 structures in the last four days.
Earlier, the BIWTA identified 906 illegal structures along the bank of Buriganga and launched a drive on January 29 to evict the grabbers. The drive will continue until February 14.
“In the first three days of the drive [before yesterday], we demolished 445 structures, including two seven-storey buildings, one six-storey building,
four four-storey buildings, 11 two-storey buildings. The rest are semi-concrete and tin-shed structures,” said AKM Arif Uddin, joint director of BIWTA.
The demolished structures include semi-concrete structures owned by Awami League lawmaker Haji Mohammad Selim and a warehouse of Shah Cement, owned by Bashundhara Group, he said.
But the BIWTA did not touch two multi-storey mosques built on the Buriganga land, citing religious sentiment.
The decision about their fate will be made by the government high-ups, said Arif.
“We will not bow down to anyone and will demolish every illegal structure as we are getting support from the administration, judiciary and people,” he added.
Often, mosques are only an excuse to grab river land. In many cases, grabbers occupy river land around the mosques and set up other structures, including markets and business establishments, officials said.
Meanwhile in Chittagong, the district administration demolished at least 30 structures along the Karnaphuli river. Another 40 structures were removed by the grabbers themselves on Monday.
SAVING DHAKA RIVERS
A large number of rivers in the country, including the Buriganga, Shitalakkhya, 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, Shitalakkhya, 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, said project director Nurul Alam.
Tender for the work is expected next week, and the work for pillar installation may begin in the next three months. The government has already appointed a consultant to implement the Tk 850 crore project.
“We are going to replace all the old pillars, as they were set up wrongly, excluding the river area,” he told The Daily Star yesterday.
Also, those pillars are not strong enough and many have been dismantled by the grabbers, he said.
Nurul claimed that the issue of foreshore exclusion was resolved through a joint survey by Dhaka district administration, BIWTA and the Department of Survey in 2017.
Under the new project, the government will build some 50km long walkways, plant trees along the walkways and set up three eco-parks at Shinnirtek, Tongi and Ashulia.
The authorities will also build 19 jetties, including at Amin Bazar, Gabtoli, Kanchpur, Tanbazar, Machuwa Bazar, and Khanpur.
About 10 years ago, the authorities built 20km walkways on both sides of the Buriganga and Shitalakkhya.
“Now in the second phase, we will set up another 50km walkways along with bank protection work. Then in the third phase, another 150km would be built,” the project director said.
He said they would prepare a proposal for the third phase by this year.
“We have been carrying out eviction drive to free the rivers and will set up the boundary pillars and build walkways so that no one can grab river land again,” Nurul said.