River protection commission needs to be made powerful
Kamrun Nahar, Journalist, Financial Express: Bangladesh was blessed with about 700 rivers (source: Wikipedia), constituting a waterway of 24,140 kilometres. The country is a great delta formed by three Himalayan rivers: the Ganges, the Brahmaputra and the Meghan. But now we know from the Joint River Commission that Bangladesh has 405 rivers, of which 57 are trans-boundary and 54 common with India and three with Myanmar.
Although we very often hear roars from the authorities to stop river encroachment, even zero tolerance against the encroachers and polluters, it is hardly visible in reality. The waterway has reduced to 6,000 kilometres. We are observing mass destruction of our rivers, canals, water bodies, our lifeline, in broad daylight and under the very nose of the authority. They are making our environment and overall living condition awful. The river grabbing leads to the fast loss of arable land. The narrowing of rivers has direct impact on human lives and waterways.
But the government formed the National River Protection Commission in 2014 with a view to reclaim rivers of the country. But it is shocking to know that the commission face cases due to the loopholes in the National River Protection Commission Act 2013. In a meeting of the parliamentary standing committee on the shipping ministry, the commission chairman expressed his helplessness saying that this commission cannot protect the rivers and canals with the existing law. The lawmakers and the commission representatives unanimously proposed to form a special tribunal for smooth settlement of land related complexities.
A committee member said it is the responsibility of the DCs to protect the public property which they are not doing practically. They should discharge their duty sincerely. He even held the DCs responsible for recording the land of rivers and canals as private land. That’s why complexities arise during the reclamation activities. And most alarmingly, a tripartite nexus works here– the river grabbers, the DCs and the political or other influential quarters who work from behind the scene.
National River Protection Commission is involved with 13 ministries and it has no office of its own, for which they have to pay Tk 0.24 million monthly as rent. There is scarcity of manpower too. The commission is a toothless and clawless one. The amended law and appointment of adequate manpower will be helpful for reclaiming the rivers and gear up the commission’s work. In fact, the commission was formed to work merely as a recommending body and lacks the power to implement any of its decision. Led by a retired bureaucrat, it works under the shipping ministry and submits reports to the president in March every year.
It should be investigated how the properties can be recorded as private property from DC office and who the owners are. A tripartite nexus works here – the DC office, the encroachers and a powerful political quarter who work behind all the process. All the parties involved in this process should be held accountable.
As far as my knowledge goes, members of this commission themselves feel embarrassed as they cannot protect the rivers. Even the government has not taken any initiative to make it an effective commission.