The Financial Express

Lip services to rivers despite their recognition as living entities

Lip services to rivers despite their recognition as living entities

The World Rivers Day, observed annually on the fourth Sunday of September, in fact puts emphasis on maintaining healthy thriving waterways. This year the day was on 26th September. The day should not be confused with another day earmarked for rivers called the International Day of Action for Rivers celebrated on March 14 each year. But both are comparatively recent events resulting from campaign for saving rivers from encroachment, construction of dams, industrial and environmental pollution and climate change. The International Day of Action for Rivers started its journey in 1998 and the World Rivers Day from 2005.

The World Rivers Day this year passed here rather quietly, although the country has been observing the day since 2010. Mark Angelo who is the pioneer and chair of the World Rivers Day succinctly observes what rivers actually mean to life: 'Rivers are the arteries of our planet, they are lifelines in the truest sense".  Every year a theme is chosen for observance of the day aimed at raising people's awareness about preserving and sustaining rivers' flows. On this score, the year 2019 saw the best ever theme when rivers were given the status of a living entity. Appropriately, the theme was encapsulated as 'River a living entity, ensure its legal rights'.

This year's theme may not be as lofty as that of the year 2019 but it is highly important for the country, particularly in the urban space. Although looks simple, 'waterways in our communities' with specific emphasis on the need to conserve and repair the urban waterways, particularly in this country's case, assumes a significance far greater than is usually imagined.

The official body in charge of securing waterways, Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA) after demonstrating a flurry of activities such as demolishing structures on the banks of the rivers around Dhaka city has inexplicably gone for construction of infrastructure of different shapes and sizes on the river Turag. The custodian of rivers has reversed its role to kill the already ailing river. According to a pictorial report carried in a contemporary, it has been filling up the river's shoreline for construction of several jetties. It has to its credit ---better say discredit --- earlier, the establishment of landing stations for the failed water taxi service.

As in the previous case, it encroached upon the river to construct the landing stations, this time also it has outrageously filled 100-150 feet inside the river area demarcated by pillars set up by the BIWTA and the Ministry of Shipping. So, it has been negating its own rules. This will give a wrong message to the private land grabbers in particular. Or, has the BIWTA been doing this in cahoots with certain quarters? It cannot do what it is doing because such acts clearly obstruct the flows of the river and the High Court has a clear directive not to do so.

The BIWTA has been complaining against the 10 low-height bridges on the four rivers around the capital because those bridges cause impediments to the circular water route to be revived under a plan. Now what it is doing will not only shrink the already moribund river channel but may also strike the death knell sooner than later.

What purpose will the jetties serve if water vessels cannot move? When water-taxi service could not continue taking advantage of traffic jams on city roads, which kill people's time for hours together, how can the BIWTA ensure movement of water vessels on rivers getting strangulated by its own rapacious acts? After all, for movement of cargo vessels the primary condition is to allow the rivers to have vibrant channels. Such constructions at huge costs prove useless not only to the public but also those involved in construction become the undue beneficiaries in the process.

Waste of public money in similar manner has been rampant. Now is the time to rein in such wastage. In this case, even the waste of fund is not the main issue, it is the project that is all set to kill a river, the environmental impact of which most likely will be disastrous. In this connection, the observations made by the chairman of the National River Conservation Commission (NRCC) from time to time truly reflect the deplorable conditions of the country's rivers. Lately, he opined that rivers have become victims of mindless greed. The NRCC made a number of recommendations for saving and, in certain cases, reviving the dying rivers.

The government bodies initially showed they were serious about protecting the rivers. But it did not take long to dissipate their enthusiasm and interests. After about two years since the HC verdict was pronounced, they have become oblivious of their mandates. They have gone their old ways. Unless dedicated people who realise the importance of rivers for the country and its people are in charge, water bodies -- big or small -- stand hardly a chance of staying safe. People who surrender the future of the nation to the immediate ill gains should be made accountable for their pernicious acts responsible for damage to and death of rivers.              


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