The ongoing drive on the part of the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA) against illegal structures built on both banks of the river Buriganga appears to be a determined one. The agency has so far removed more than 1500 structures, including a good number of three to four-storey buildings, and recovered 10 acres of lands from unauthorised occupation in three phases of the eviction drive. The fourth phase is due to start this week. That the BIWTA means business this time was evident from the failure of a leading lawyer of the Anti-corruption Commission (ACC) to convince the on-duty officials involved in the drive and save a newly-built building, owned by one of his close relatives, from demolition by the agency's bulldozer.
However, the drive, arguably, got a jolt last Thursday when the Ministry of Public Administration issued an order asking the incumbent BIWTA chairman, who is a high naval officer, to relinquish responsibilities and report back to his original place of work. Though the outgoing BIWTA chairman termed the transfer a routine one and was not anyway related to the ongoing eviction drive, the timing of his removal would obviously give rise to suspicion that some influential quarters were instrumental in making the latest change in the BIWTA hierarchy.
Yet there are certain reasons not to lose heart. Whatever has happened so far does point to the fact that the BIWTA's drive to remove illegal structures does enjoy the all-important administrative backing. It is expected that such support to the drive would continue and the Buriganga would get back its old glory. However, one can hardly be assured of appropriate follow-up actions that would save the recovered land from being encroached again. The BIWTA had launched eviction drive on a number of occasions in the past to remove illegal structures and recover land under unauthorised occupation. But for lack of necessary follow-up programmes, the recovered land was lost to encroachers again.
This time BIWTA has come up with a well-devised plan that, if implemented early, it would help save the banks of Buriganga from being encroached again. The agency has a plan to construct a number of jetties at different points of the banks of the river and build a long walkway along the river bank along with provisions for eco-parks. In addition to the BIWTA's initiatives, the Buriganga is set to get protection under a master plan being prepared by the government for five rivers---four in Dhaka and one in Chittagong. The draft master plan is expected to be finalised next month.
What is, however, desperately needed is action on the ground to save scores of rivers, including the Buriganga, from dying. High sounding plans do not have any bearing on the ground realities unless they are implemented. In addition to giving the banks of the Buriganga an aesthetic look, the government would have to take effective measures to plug the sources that pollute its water. Besides, dredging of the riverbed would also be necessary to make the Buriganga channel adequately navigable. There is no denying that it would be a tough task for the government, but not an impossible one.
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