Action, not rhetoric, needed to stop encroachment
ALTHOUGH a High Court order came nearly five years ago in 2009, directing deputy commissioners and other government officials to arrest rampant occupation of river areas by unscrupulous encroachers, the situation still remains unchecked with most notable rivers like the Buriganga, Turag and others becoming ripe victims of illegitimate occupation. A New Age report published on Wednesday states that the government has once again issued an order, this time with the timeframe of one month, adding stringency and warning of punitive measures, irrespective of political connection. However, we cannot be too confident because such strict moves were taken in the past which only resulted in the eviction of slum dwellers, leaving the main masterminds unscathed. If the current drive, laced with the show of fiery resolve, is but a repetition of the previous ones, there will be no improvement, only the displacement of destitute people.
If rivers have been encroached in the past decade then it was done under the umbrella of local political honchos, who acted with impunity, thanks to their political safeguards. If the authority is really committed to saving the water-bodies then it has to rise above gathering political leverage offered by allegiance from dodgy quarters and act against, in many cases, its own leaders as well as wealthy business conglomerates. Issuing an order to deputy commissioners is the easy part; the government must ensure that when the DCs act as government officers and not out of political loyalty, there will not be any interference. Meanwhile, the issue of river encroachment inevitably stimulates the related matter of dumping relentlessly into water bodies and, reportedly, 40,000 tonnes of untreated waste is disposed in the Buriganga every day. This can be termed double trouble with encroachment on the one hand and ceaseless dumping on the other. The results are right before us — two major rivers, Turag and Buriganga, are both choked to the limit. Incidentally, we find that since Dhaka WASA does not have enough water treatment facilities, it’s forced to release waste into rivers through 52 points.
To sum up, saving rivers is not just about dealing with encroachment but also addressing mindless waste disposal. As the problem is multi-faceted, the one month time frame seems ludicrous, especially with the last days of Ramadan falling in this period. In fact, the government’s actual desire to deal with the problem may be questioned. The bottom line remains: the nation does not need platitudes, only tangible steps. Therefore, a step by step move with warning to the encroachers, followed by some stern action against offenders should be the first priority. Once this is done with illegal occupation kingpins out of the way, the DCs can be asked to demarcate areas and take action against those who link storm sewers with their household sewerage lines. Unless the criminal head is decapitated, mid-lower level reforms will only bring ephemeral cosmetic changes.
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