Bastuhara canal on deathbed
Once a 4km long waterbody flowing through Khulna city, today the Bastuhara canal is headed towards virtual extinction, thanks to years of indiscriminate garbage dumping and illegal occupation.
Most of this dumping comes in the form of untreated industrial waste and chemicals from the Khalishpur industrial area, said locals. In the meantime, the negligence of the authorities concerned has made way for another major menace -- encroachment, they added.
"Lack of proper maintenance and mindless dumping of garbage is gradually filling up the canal and polluting its water," said Tapon Kumar Das, a resident of Pabla under ward-6 of Khulna City Corporation.
"Besides, influential people have built illegal establishments occupying land on both sides of the Bastuhara canal," he added.
"I used to go to my paddy field at Paschim Bilpabla using the canal. But in the last ten to twelve years, the canal has turned into a garbage dump," said Abdur Rob, a resident of nearby Bastuhara colony.
"The city corporation had excavated the canal six years ago, but they didn't do it properly and now it has become a breeding ground for mosquito," he added.
What's worse, the situation at Bastuhara can only be considered a case study of the state of most canals of Khulna city.
There was once a time when the city was blessed with water flowing from over 50 canals. Over half of these waterbodies are gone now.
Of the remaining, 22 are struggling for survival -- due to encroachment, mindless dumping of waste, and the sheer negligence of the authorities concerned.
Among the canals, Nirala, Mohirbari, Labonchhara, Mandar, Khudier, Khetrokhali, Nabinagar, Gallamari (north), Batkamari, Arongghata, Deana Chowdhury khal, Bastuhara, Taltola, Kaderer Khal, Chorichhara, Kholabaria, Narkelbaria, Harintana, Motiakhali, Mohirbari, and Mathabhanga are all facing existential threats due to the rampant pollution and encroachment.
"Shortage of water and pollution in rivers and canals mean locals find it hard to access usable water. It also affect fish stocks," said Bastuhara colony resident Julfiker Ali.
"Cultivation is hampered since there isn't enough water for irrigation as the canal beds do not contain much water," he added.
Visiting the Bastuhara canal last week, this correspondent saw the almost 50-60 feet wide canal in a state akin to a plain agro-field.
Beneath Karikorpara bridge, there is no water in the canal. Around two kilometers from there to Khudiar khal, the entire canal bed is full of hyacinths, bushes, and grass. In some places, taro plants, banana trees, and other big and small saplings are growing. Locals said they collect grass for their cows and goats from the canal bed.
Back in the days, villagers of Rangpur, Saluya, Arongghata, Purba Bilpabla, Paschim Bilpabla of Dumuria upazila used to come to Khulna city's Boyra, Bastuhara, Pabla, Khalishpur, and Daulatpur areas through the canal, said Samsuddin Ahmed Prince, local councillor (ward-6).
As the water has run dry, it has made life very difficult for farmers from these villages, he added. The canal was excavated once in 2014-15, but lack of maintenance meant it got filled up again, he said.
"We need immediate steps to excavate the canal in an urgent basis for its natural water resources," he also said.
Sheikh Mohammad Ali, secretary general of Greater Khulna Unnayan Sangram Samannay Committee, said, "Due to encroachment and lack of proper drainage systems, waterlogging has become a major problem for the city."
Contacted, Nuruzzaman Talukdar, estate officer of KCC and member secretary of a committee to mark illegal grabbers, said they have listed 460 grabbers and 382 illegal structures on 26 canals. The list was later handed over to the deputy commissioner, he informed.
"The sub-committee listed around 47 canals crisscrossing the city and its adjacent areas. Of them, 31 are under KCC areas," he said. Khulna District Administration is the custodian of these canals, while KCC works as a supervisor, he said.
A top official of the administration, seeking anonymity, said it is KCC's responsibility to maintain and preserve the waterbodies. "We assist the city corporation during demarcation or eviction drives. But, KCC has to take the initiative first," he said.
Contacted, KCC Mayor Talukder Abdul Khaleque said recovering canals from grabbers was part of his election manifesto. "We will start a drive soon to recover the remaining 22 canals including Bastuhara," he said.
"After taking charge, I have initiated a Tk 823 crore project to resolve the city's waterlogging issue and free the canals," he added.