The Financial Express

Starting life anew in fraught times

---Photo for representational purpose only ---Photo for representational purpose only

The Yamuna and the Ganges, the two rivers flowing by the Indian capital of Delhi and the city of Kolkata, the West Bengal capital, are notorious for their highly polluted state. TV footage has lately shown the water of the rivers has turned crystal clear during the 'lockdown'. They are flowing quiet - free of the myriad types of water transport and the floating filth. One might feel now eager to compare the Yamuna and the Ganges to the Thames in the UK, or the Hudson and the Potomac in the USA.

The pollution in the waters of capital Dhaka's Buriganga, and parts of Karnaphuli flowing by Chattogram city has also been found gone during the shutdown for over two months. Those who earlier felt repulsed at the sight of the stench-filled Buriganga, now feel tempted to take boat rides on the river flowing by the Bangladesh capital.

 The polluted rivers of the country wearing an enticing look due to their being free of reckless users might eventually prove deceptive. Because these rivers remained off-limits to all kinds of polluters for a certain period; the restrictive actions were warranted by a pandemic emergency.

After the withdrawal of 'shutdown' and 'lockdown' orders, the presently clean rivers are feared to revert to their earlier looks. In the case of Buriganga, and the lately polluted Karnaphuli and Sylhet's Surma, the grim realities may not take longer to unfold. Against such a backdrop, the residents of Dhaka and the nearby places along the banks of four smaller rivers as well as Shitalakkhya, may not feel at all upbeat. In the post-shutdown period, motor-launches, trawlers and mechanised boats are feared to return with their ubiquitous presence. Besides the river waters being polluted with the boats' engine-oil seepage, dumping of all kinds of waste - domestic, industrial and medical, will bring back the rivers' moribund state. Should we then call up another shutdown spectre?

Experts in India suggest that a stern message should be spread among people asking them to keep the rivers clean for the sake of their healthy survival. Bangladesh can emulate the action. After all, its polluted rivers have not yet gone beyond the scopes for de-polluting. The shutdown-time clean looks of the rivers have provided hints in this regard. After the Covid-19 pandemic starts showing signs of subsiding, eventually reaching the point of annihilation, the authorities can begin swinging into action. The step ought to be fully focused on the imperative of keeping the rivers clean.

The novel coronavirus continues to exact a heavy toll on human lives and socio-economic balance. However, it has enabled nature and the creatures depending on it to experience a new lease of life. But the sensible people cannot yearn for fresh bouts of the pandemic to see its rivers flow unhindered and nature blossom in its own pace. The onus lies with both the authorities and the people in order to see the country's cityscapes and nature in the best of their forms.

The government lifted the over two-month-long shutdown order on May 31 enforced in the country on March 26. People are now free of the restrictions on movement outside home; but the mandatory wearing of facemasks remains in force. So does the social distancing. The shutdown was aimed at containment of the Covid-19 pandemic. It largely remained effective in the big and small cities. The capital Dhaka was under a special focus. With the shutdown order lifted, the city is fast getting back its perennial hustle-and-bustle. Upon being given the opportunity to join work and resume livelihood-linked activities, people from villages are seen rushing frantically to the cities.

Many fear that in a week Dhaka will again emerge with its dreary, squalid character. The interlude of pollution-free air, the pleasant quiet, the chirping of birds and insects are apprehended to get buried by mechanised sounds coming from different sources. Although allowed to ply in limited numbers, the modes of public transport, including those on water routes and railway, are expected to be in full operation soon. Undoubtedly, it is the motorised vehicles which will enjoy dominance on the city roads. Urban experts brace for bad times to return once again to the roads of Dhaka. Their fear is inextricably linked to the reckless nature of the capital's traffic movement. Unfit and noxious exhaust fume-spewing vehicles have long been adding to the awful spectacles on the city's roads. It doesn't require much guesswork to imagine the return of the capital's earlier depressing look exacerbated by air and noise pollutions.

In a few days Dhaka's old scourge of traffic gridlock is set to return with a vengeance. It will be normal to see the commuters and pedestrians rushing in every direction to get their postponed tasks done. The outbreak of the novel coronavirus, worsened by its ferocity, had caught people unawares. When offices, industries and all work outlets were declared shut, the city residents had little options. In order to avert the swoop of the pandemic, they faced the Hobson's choice - either go out and get infected, not to speak of facing police interrogations, or remain confined to one's home.

That the great dilemmatic situation would put countless city residents in great adversities became a foregone conclusion. After around one month, the stay-at-home began chipping away at the financial and psychological strength of many people. A large section of them comprised low and middle-income employees at private offices, small and mid-level traders, roadside vendors and daily wage earners. Unlike the government employees, the private job holders were far from being assured of payments at the end of a month. That the dazed people will now come out in droves to resume their work or start something anew cannot be viewed as any act of desperation. Fighting tooth and nail to eke out a living may emerge as a new reality enveloped in gloom. Notwithstanding the blossoming of an idyllic nature beyond harsh realities during the shutdown, Dhaka might now find itself stuck in awfully grim times.


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