Govt’s parting gesture to save rivers
Cabinet okays draft river protection commission billStaff Correspondent
The cabinet on Monday gave its final approval to the draft ‘National River Protection Commission Bill, 2013’ with an aim to save the country’s rivers from pollution and encroachment.
The shipping ministry placed the draft at the weekly cabinet meeting with the prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, in the chair at the secretariat.
The move came against the backdrop of the authorities’ continued failure to protect the rivers from grabbing and pollution, particularly by industrial and household wastes, despite several initiatives in the past. The government could not even carry out the High Court’s directives to the effect.
‘After enactment of the proposed law, it would help the authorities take stern actions against river pollution and encroachment and construction of structures on the rivers,’ cabinet secretary Mohammad Musharraf Hossain Bhuiyan told reporters after the meeting.
He said a five-member commission led by a chairman would be instituted under the law to protect the country’s rivers.
The members and chairman of the commission would be appointed by the government for three-year tenure under the law, the secretary said, adding that the members must be expert in environment or water resources/water management or law and well versed in human rights issues.
He said rules would be framed under the river protection commission law widening its scope to protect water bodies like haors, beels and khals too from pollution and illegal occupation by individuals or quarters.
In an immediate reaction, Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers’ Association executive director Syeda Rizwana Hasan said the government was yet to consult the stakeholders, including green activists, in formulating the draft law.
‘So far, I have come to know that the proposed commission will have the power to make recommendations only but no authority to execute them. For that it will have to rely on 14 ministries and divisions,’ she said, adding that this would not make any difference.
More than one crore residents of Dhaka produce approximately 3,200 tonnes of solid waste a day and around 80 per cent of the city’s sewage, in addition to 40,000 tonnes of untreated toxic industrial waste, is reportedly released directly into the Buriganga every day, making much of the river biologically dead.
The taskforce responsible for ensuring the navigability and natural flow of the Buriganga, the Sitalakhya, the Balu, the Turag and others rivers across the country ordered in August last the authorities concerned to take actions against the house-owners who dispose of their sewerage into the storm sewers, ultimately polluting the rivers around the capital city.
It also asked the Dhaka Water Supply and Sewerage Authority to identify the house-owners who had illegally connected their sewerage lines to the storm water drainage system, severely polluting the river water.
But the WASA itself disposes of untreated liquid wastes through at least 52 points as the state-run agency does not have
adequate facilities to treat the contaminated water before its disposal into the rivers, officials said, adding that no effective measures were taken to implement the order of the taskforce.
Moreover, the authorities took no action to stop sand-trading or remove the heaps of sand from the banks of Turag in the city and the Shitalakhya at Narayanganj, although the 15-day deadline set by the High Court expired on November 21.
On November 6, responding to a public interest writ petition, the High Court directed the authorities to take both the actions within 15 days.
The two rivers, like many others, are endangered by land-grabbing on the banks by sand-traders. The rivers are shrinking due to constant movement of hundreds of trucks they load on their banks.
Monday’s cabinet meeting also endorsed a proposal for ratifying ‘SAARC Agreement on Rapid Response to Natural Disaster’ under which the member countries would be able to cooperate with each other in mitigating any natural disasters.
Besides, three separate reports—one on the visit of a Bangladesh delegation led by the expatriates’ welfare minister to Mauritius, Malaysia and Australia in November 21-28, another on the participation of a Bangladesh delegation led by the water resources minister in the ‘Sixth
Session of the meeting of the parties to the Convention on the Protection and Use of Trans-boundary Watercourses and International Lakes’ in
Rome in November 28-30, and the last on the commerce minister’s visit to Czech Republic and Germany in November 19-23—were placed at the meeting.
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