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The Financial Express

Clear evidence of neglect to rivers

| Updated: November 26, 2021 22:23:26


File photo used for representational purpose. (Collected) File photo used for representational purpose. (Collected)

The landmark High Court judgment delivered on February 3, 2019, recognising the river Turag as a living entity had in it embedded the seed of subsequent developments -- legal measures and actions -- in relation to protection of rivers from grabbers and pollution. With the HC judgment endorsing the country's rivers as 'living entities', 'a legal person, a juristic person' having the right to protect its rights', in fact all rivers and water bodies come under the protective clause. The formation of the National Rivers Conservation Commission (NRCC) with the assignment of identifying all the rivers and their grabbers all across the country should have been sufficient to make sure that a complete list of both were prepared for submission to the court. Unfortunately, another public interest litigation (PIL) petition had to be moved by the Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers' Association (BELA) for resolving the controversy over the number of rivers as the lawyers' body rightly argues that without knowing the exact number of rivers, the actual number of grabbers cannot be pinpointed.

So the HC has directed the government to submit a comprehensive list of rivers all across the country to it by June 5, 2022. The number of rivers according to three government agencies varies widely with the NRCC putting it at 770, the shipping ministry at 496 and the Bangladesh Water Development Board at 405. But researcher M Enamul Huq has prepared a list of 1,182 rivers in the country. Similarly, the number of encroachers of rivers is 57,390, according to NRCC, while the state minister of shipping told parliament that there were 65,127 river grabbers.  Does this discrepancy not speak volumes for the utter neglect rivers are subjected to even after the environmental groups' ceaseless campaign for protecting rivers and the latest government moves prompted by the HC verdicts from time to time? In fact, the government agencies feel no urgency to treat rivers as living entities and fall way behind the required spirit to act as the 'trustee of all rivers, hills, sea beaches, canals, beels and other water bodies'.

If such discrepancies have prompted the BELA to bring the issues to the notice of the HC, the court has taken due cognizance of the fact and asked the government to prepare an action plan, detailing a timeframe, logistics and resources required for eviction of the grabbers on identification of the river boundaries within the timeframe. The HC has further directed as many as 19 respondents ---secretaries of different ministries and others concerned ---to explain within four weeks why their failure to identify and protect the rivers of the country from grabbers as well as restore their flows to their original state would not be declared illegal.                

Evidently, the HC has come down hard on all the government agencies concerned to goad them into action. Whether the agencies will come out of their slumber and go all out against the privileged coteries cannot be guaranteed. They are accustomed to buying time and thus drag issues for years and decades with a seemingly undisguised ulterior motive. The NRCC has yet to be made into a powerful entity, equal to the task. That it has recommended the creation of a separate ministry exclusively in the interest of rivers deserves due consideration. 

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